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Why I Stay (in Fringe Internet Mormonism)

August 17, 2013

As I have alluded in passing in certain other blog posts, I have been involved with the Mormon Hub Facebook group as an administrator. While I have been an admin to other media (Wheat & Tares in particular), the Mormon Hub’s “back stage” discussions are more frequent and animated than any other moderation group that I have been a part of. And, in general, Facebook groups are a different beast than blogs.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Instead, I wanted to write about the fact that for me, the Hub means something a bit more than what a Facebook group probably means to most folks. It is not just a place to chat, but also a living experiment and a proving grounds. The Hub is trying to do something that many other sites and groups have tried, but that seems (based on the graveyard of previous attempts) to be difficult, if not impossible to maintain. (Either that, or the Hub is simply trying to do something that has never been attempted before…can’t decide which).

If the Hub is doing something that many other sites have tried, then that can be best summarized as trying to have a space where Mormon believers and non believers can coexist, but without the polemics of  incessantly trying to argue about the church’s truth or falsity. Discussion about Mormonism beyond the truth claims, as it were.

…but when I say parenthetically that maybe the Hub is trying to do something that has never been attempted before, then what I’m referring to is the different idea that maybe, it’s trying to create a space not necessarily for a big tent of disaffected and orthodox and everyone in between trying (tenuously) to make conversation work out…but rather an online space for liberal, uncorrelated, unorthodox Mormons, separate from Sunday meanings (primarily for “orthodox” folks), and separate from most online venues (primarily for disaffected folks). Yeah, try to define that.

Anyway, however unique (or not) the goal is, one aspect of this process that has been attempted several times (but with challenges) is our approach to moderation: we want to be as hands off as possible without allowing for anyone to destroy the environment.

This approach to moderation is the downfall of many sites. For the most part, a laissez-faire approach to moderation leads to discussions where the most vocal (to say it neutrally) and the most obnoxious, demanding, and overbearing (to say it less so) voices drive out everyone who can’t meet or match that volume. At least in online Mormonism, those obnoxious voices tend to be disaffected (especially recently so) folks who want to make sure everyone is aware of their pain and betrayal. (Whereas, in a typical church setting, those voices would be the orthodox.

(I don’t want to be unsympathetic to these folks, but to an extent, it’s just tiring.)

One way to try to get past this problem is through more careful and thorough moderation. Ban someone at the least provocation. Ban now; don’t ask questions ever. And don’t look back. This is the approach that many blogs use. I’ve been banned from a few blogs, so yeah.

Instead, between Wheat & Tares and The Mormon Hub, I have encouraged a very different approach. If I have faith in anything (and maybe I’ll write another post describing potential things I have a religious faith in, since the other day, I noted to myself that I do have certain ideas that might fit that), it’s in the potential to talk things out, even when the conversation continues to look grim.

So, my approach is always to reach out to folks privately. To see if they can explain their actions, their motivations, their goals. If those goals and motivations are at odds with the Hub’s goals, then I would like for them to decide whether they will stretch to fit in or whether the Hub is a place they should voluntarily leave.

…because you know, I think that moderation action upsets people. They don’t want to hear “advice” or “requests for change” at this point…They are upset at being invalidated or silenced. But if through a conversation, they buy into the choice — whether it is to change their behavior or to leave…it’s a win for all.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, moderation is not that clean.

In practice, every time I send someone a private message, I have no idea if they aren’t going to be upset from the get-go. I have to be worried for the possibility that they will take everything I say privately and publish it — whether in the group or on another forum. And how will it be misinterpreted (with no way for anyone to verify it because the only person privy to the private conversation is me)?

In practice, while I’m reaching out privately, there may be other people who see that as the moderators doing nothing while someone wreaks havoc on the board. (And yet, when moderators speak publicly, there are also people who see that as the moderators being oppressive.)

In practice, even though I want to treat everyone as a rational adult (and think that being a rational adult involves being able to communicate and see other people’s sides and cooperate)…I understand that there are folks who are just trolls, and who really do just want to see the world burn. But even without considering trolls and griefers, the more problematic fact is that for human beings, being a “rational adult” doesn’t mean being unaffected by personal experiences, emotions, or simply alternative understandings of facts and the world.

Even though these are self-determined restraints I have voluntarily put on myself (and which I could always decide to change), I still am sometimes saddened or discouraged by it. I’m sad because people don’t treat each other well…because sometimes, people are really controlled by various personality points…various experiences…and so. And so even when I see someone who seems to be going through a repeating routine of some sort of negativity…there’s not anything I can say to that person from the outside. Anything I do say will continue to negative spiral.

When I think of my involvement as a mod at Mormon Hub, it actually strikes me as the most religious thing I do these days. Eugene England wrote way back when about the truth in the church as deriving from the imperfections and annoyances of human beings that comprise it — thus, the truth of the church is not in trying to mitigate or avoid annoying people, but in trying to embrace them and learn to serve them.

And even if I’m not “ready” to subject myself to folks in a ward setting, I think a similar thing is true of a Facebook group (although ultimately, the rules are also different…Mormon Hub doesn’t take anyone’s money or claim to be the one true group, so we are much more OK if people decide to leave…we’re not going to shame you, encourage your family to shame you, etc., if it doesn’t work.)

And in some sense, I get to apply certain Mormon ideas and concepts to this experiment. Ever since Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps hit the scene, the Mormon implications about agency (and the way that God must work around and through human agency, even if it hurts) have been on my mind. For example, from Moses 7:

 28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?

30 And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever;

31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace,justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.

35 Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.

36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.

37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.

39 And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;

40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.

41 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and toldEnoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.

Agency is a big deal…yet, agency, the very thing required for us to progression, is the thing that causes that “these shall suffer“.

Obviously, I’m not God. I did not give anyone his or her agency (although with the idea that people are eternal intelligences and God organized rather than created, perhaps verse 32 above should be interpreted differently). Still, as a moderator and admin, I have to deal with the effects of agency. I want us to get along, that we should all love one another and have chill conversations, yet many folks are without affection, and hate their Mormon blood. (And again, with the experiences many people have had, I can’t even blame them.)

When I think about managing a community, with all the possibilities for strict moderation, I realize that the goals we have aren’t compatible. And so that leads me to a different set of scriptures, from D&C 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

 43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

 44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

 45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

 46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

How does one show forth an increase of love toward another whom one has reproved? How do you avoid the other esteeming you his enemy?

Ultimately, the main reason I stay (in fringe Internet Mormon groups) is because I see groups like the Mormon Hub as being what Mormonism could be. (As I’ve said, if there was a Sunstone ward, or a Mormon Stories ward, I’d be there every week). Since I do not attend church, I do not feel tied to viewing what the church does as an institution or what happens in pews in wards across the world every week as being the only legitimate approach to what Mormonism is or can be. So, I can still “practice” Mormonism and “fellowship” with other Mormons, without having a butt in the pews.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Hi Andrew. We’ve had our clashes in the past. I want to try to explain my reaction to something you said without rancor and hopefully help you and others like you to understand the polsition of the mainstream regarding faithful church service and attendance. You said:

    “I do not feel tied to viewing what the church does as an institution or what happens in pews in wards across the world every week as being the only legitimate approach to what Mormonism is or can be. So, I can still “practice” Mormonism and “fellowship” with other Mormons, without having a butt in the pews.”

    Here’s my own feeling. I serve at the Lord’s pleasure. He doesn’t do my will. He has given me the opportunity to be a part of his work. I am free to do my own thing, but that doesn’t necessarily build up what he wants. In fact, while other people are “building the walls” of Zion, if I do my own thing, I could be hindering the Lord’s work. It would be like a musician in an orchestra who refuses to follow the conductor’s baton, causing dissonance and confusion.

    Submission is necessary. Discipline is necessary. There are just some things that I feel the Lord requires at my hands because he sacrificed so much for me. Because he bled and died, I owe him everything. Because he suffered the price for my own sins, I would be ungrateful to decline his invitation to be a part of his work.

    To me, that invitation requires me to get my “butt in the pews.” It requires me to do things that I don’t always find comfortable–like those awkward moments when the phone rings just after my head has hit the pillow to go give someone a blessing. It requires me to show up to meetings where the Lord’s work is being planned. Even though the meetings might be boring as heck, the Lord’s will often becomes manifest as unanimity emerges from a council and decisions are made.

    There is a lot of the Lord’s work that is the equivalent of pulling a handcart. It’s not rewarding. It’s not fun. It just has to be done. The reward is yet to be envisioned. It’s over the mountains, beyond the horizon. Yet faith gives me strength to keep showing up and taking my turn pulling the wagon.

    I’m a black belt in judo. To get there, there are no shortcuts. There are hundreds of individual techniques to master. Some of them are painful and difficult. Nevertheless, unless I submitted to the tutelage of my sensei and suffered through the pain to perfect those techniques, I would have never mastered them. I must continue to practice them despite the discomfort. Those who quit or try to take short cuts around the techniques never master them. Discipline is the difference between those who succeed and those who don’t. Those who might make up their own thing and call it judo do a disser vice to those whom they might teach.

    I believe all acts of kindness and service are noted and logged in our book of life. However, the Lord’s work is a communal one as well as an individual one. A literal Zion will need to be built one day. That’s not going to happen by magic any more than magic built the Salt Lake Temple. It will take organized work and effort, directed by revelation to living prophets and carried out by faithful saints. It takes the sacrifice of paying tithing to prepare to live in the United Order. It takes the sacrifice of serving missions, holding primary callings, going to the cannery, and serving in the temple to prepare oneself to serve the Lord’s cause.

    Those who go it alone will find themselves along strange paths that don’t lead to the mountain of the Lord’s house. It’s odd that those who fight against the Church or work contrary to its goals never speak of sacrifice, discipline, or submission. It’s always about some kind of ephemeral “freedom” to do what they want. Those who stay faithful to the Lord’s plan will receive the reward due the laborer. The millions of us who stay in the Church and do our part will enjoy the fruits of that labor one day.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Greg, and long time no see.

    I guess your explanation isn’t anything I haven’t heard before, but thanks for sharing it because sometimes hearing things at new times can make the difference.

    I guess the main thing with your post is that idea that you mentioned… You serve at the Lord’s pleasure. That necessarily involves you feeling a call or calling and then interpreting that as saying you should be in a specific place doing specific things.

    If you didn’t feel called to that, or you felt called to do something different, you’d likely be making similar arguments for other things. I mean, people of different denominations and different religions will say the same thing for theirs. And one has to make a personal inquiry about what sorts of things resonate with oneself.

    So, I mean, you seem to feel called to do your Society for the Prevention of Anti Mormonism stuff, which involves a lot of harassment and stuff that I don’t think many folks really care for, but that’s what you feel called to do.

    Others don’t feel called to do that, or even to associate with people who would, or to support organizations that would somehow encourage some of its members to think that is acceptable or even virtuous behavior. Many folks for that to be bad fruit, in other words. So they would not feel called to that.

    This is not to say that these other folks don’t believe in submission and sacrifice and discipline. Rather, it’s a matter of sacrificing for a worthy cause. I think my various online efforts are worthy causes. And I understand the principle of applying that to a ward environment – where there is value in continuing to engage with folks with whom one fiercely disagrees because that is the way we learn to serve better, more patiently, long suffering, etc. But at this time, I probably still need the buffer zone.

    I guess when people speak of freedom, it’s freedom from unworthy causes and freedom from sacrifice in the service of those unworthy causes. Which it’s up to individuals to decide whether it’s worth it or not. For example, all of your examples work for you because you already find value in those things. When you speak of judo, it’s because you find value in judo… But if it were something that you did not see value in, something that had flaws that you felt were deal breakers, you would not find the investment worth it… But you might find a partial investment worth it, or investment under your own terms.

    But as a fencer, I understand the value and importance of sacrificing and doing hard work to reach a level of competence. So your judo analogy makes sense to me. But notice how you voluntarily choose to do judo and not fencing, and that’s OK? We can have different interests and that’s ok.

    Interestingly, one of the things I see from Christianity than Mormons typically don’t emphasize is the idea that freedom is what Christ’s sacrifice was about. I understand this freedom still comes with other things, but most Christians take a decidedly different approach than many Mormons do.

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