Constructing, Deconstructing, and Reconstructing Mormonism
The latest frenzy in the liberal/new order/middle way/uncorrelated Internet Mormon circles has been discussion of John Dehlin’s latest interview with A Thoughtful Faith, as has been reposted at Mormon Stories. I hope to make a longer post about some things I got from the interview, probably at Wheat & Tares, but that would involve me to re-listen through the podcast, devoting far more attention than I normally do. And it would involve notetaking. Then writing. Then creating jazzy little graphics.
I care about my art.
The basics of the story is that unlike most podcasts where John is interviewing someone else, in this podcast, John was the one being interviewed. And this three-hours-over-three-parts podcast delves into John’s history…but more importantly, his present and future, especially with the church. As the title of the podcast episodes say, he has reconstructed his faith, and is returning to church activity.
…of course, everyone is freaking out about this. Does this mean that middle way Mormonism is dead? That the Big Tent is not really possible? Does John really think so poorly of disaffected/ex/post or former Mormons? (That last topic will probably be more addressed at Wheat & Tares, since there’s a lot to unpack about the moral progression and/or regression of Mormons undergoing faith crisis.)
For this post, I just wanted to respond to Kiley’s latest post at We Were Going to Be Queens, and some related topical comments she made on FB. You may notice that this post is almost completely stolen from my my comment over at We Were Going to be Queens. Wanna fight about it?
Early in her post, Kiley describes Mormon Stories thusly:
If I had to summarize what Mormon Stories has meant to me I could do it in one simple sentence.
The church is not and never has been what it portrays itself to be.
I agree here. In fact, I think this idea is crucial for discussing what “middle way Mormonism” looks like. (For this post, I’ll use the middle way and Big Tent interchangeably, even though I feel like they are referring to different things.)
But the thing is: with this simple statement, there is a question: what now? Given that the church is not and never has been what it portrays itself to be, what do we do next?
And I think that when we deconstruct the assumptions about the church that we previously had, that gives us a lot of freedom in choosing what we will do about the deconstructed parts. I think that is where the middle way or where the Big Tent can come in.
I was confused about one line that Kiley had in her post (which it seems is part of the disconnect here, but I’m not sure if that’s it):
That gray space between “in the church” and “out of the church” is not a place where you get to stay. You have to choose at some point. You have to take a stand at some point.
Because to me, I rephrase this as like this: “in the church” and “not in the church.” (This may be problematic — someone may not mean the same thing by “out” as “not in”) And then, rephrased as this, it becomes a simple case of the Law of the Excluded Middle. There is NO third possibility, when every possibly option can be logically included in the set “In” or “Not in.”
But I’m not saying with that that the Big Tent or the Middle Way is rendered impossible.
To me, the middle way and the Big Tent come from the deconstruction present within Kiley’s one sentence: The church is not and never has been what it portrays itself to be.
Given that, what is “in”? What is “not in”?
We might think of “in” as the sorts of actions someone who has never deconstructed might do. We might think of “out” as the sorts of actions someone who has fully deconstructed might do. But we might think of the middle ground as being the process of reconstruction. You can’t really put Humpty Dumpty back together again…so a reconstruction will never be the same as the never-deconstructed. But in fact, you have a lot of options when it comes to reconstruction — you can try to make a Humpty Dumpty lookalike, or you can take the pieces and make something that looks considerably different than how Humpty Dumpty originally looked. You have all of these options.
This raises some interesting questions…can someone who has had a faith crisis ever return to a faith that could be recognized as “stereotypically TBM” (however problematic that term is)? Or will they always become some sort of uncorrelated figure?
…my sentiments are that even if this is possible, this is pretty much not the case for John Dehlin. I think people read too much into his return — when people say he has returned to “full activity” (or heaven forbid, that he has “returned to faith”), what does that mean? Because even if it is a recognizable difference from where he might have been a few months ago, I’m thinking that the details make it a lot more nuanced. When you drill down, the “full activity” that would fit for John is probably not going to be the same kind of “full activity” that we would attribute to a pre-deconstructed “TBM”. The “full faith” attributed to John is not going to have the same sorts of assumptions and contents as that of the pre-deconstructed “TBM”.
(Of course, the reason I put “TBM” in quotes like that is that I think that when one goes through the deconstructive process, they should have enough information to piece together that even the idea of a “TBM” doesn’t really grasp at any tangible reality. There is no monolithic ur-TBM…just a variety of people who we lump together as being similar, while collapsing the differences that make a difference.)