Faith as loyalty, commitment, attitudinal stance
One of my favorite vantage points to read about in online Mormon discourse is a stream of thought that distinguishes belief from faith. It might just be because this approach is strange, foreign, and a little novel to me, but I have to say that I am bored with the contrasting approach — the approach that bases the validity or invalidity of Mormonism (or any other religion, for that matter), solely or primarily on the factual claims it makes about history, science, or whatever else.
You can see the latter approach in something like, say, Letter to a CES Director. This darling of the disaffected Mormon community presents a series of “issues” that the author faced that were why, as he subtitles, he lost his testimony.
But as you look through the PDF book, you will note that it’s just a laundry list of areas where the factual claims of the LDS church can be cast into doubt by some other fact claim or another.
This is all well and good, but the other thing to note is that, with very few exceptions, these fact claims are utterly irrelevant to day-to-day lived experience. John Dehlin of Mormon Stories is planning to host an interview with author Jeremy Runnells of the Letter to a CES Director, and I think one of the questions an audience member raised is telling:
Why did you ignore LGBT issues?
Why do the Kinderhook Plates even matter? And why do they matter more than what is happening today?
I suspect that many disaffected folks prioritize these historical/factual claims issues for a number of reasons (which I might go into detail in a different post), but I just summarize this to say that I’m not that interested in those sorts of things. (And, to that extent, I’m not interested in apologists who want to go that route either.)
Instead, I want to go back to the approach from the beginning of this article. I think there are several people who have jumped on board of this, and there are several podcast episodes that go into this (especially on Mormon Matters, which is why I really like that podcast.) One recent podcast was a Mormon Matters podcast with Adam Miller and Stephen Carter on stories.
As some background information, I think Dan’s podcast was meant to salvage from the wreckage that was John Dehlin’s earlier podcast with Adam. That latter podcast is probably a good picture of the tension between the two perspectives of which I speak — Adam is consistently trying to describe faith in terms of an attitudinal stance or a particular commitment in terms of loyalties, but John is consistently trying to make faith and religion about belief, and particularly, belief in fantastic claims (such as the supernatural.) The comments are even worse, with most of the commenters railing into Adam not only for being an apologist (a cardinal sin by itself…), but for being a disingenuous one at that.
I was glad that Dan followed up with the Mormon Matters interview. I think Dan is definitely more suited to Adam’s style of thinking, and bringing Stephen Carter was an extra treat.
I don’t want to summarize a two-hour interview, although I know you probably aren’t going to go out of your way to listen to a two-hour podcast either (but still, I say: consider doing that), but here’s what I will say I was thinking…
When I hear folks talking about faith as a commitment, or faith as loyalty, I want to think that this is a cool concept to try. To “live into,” as it were.
But then I ask myself: why should I be loyal? I can buy a Givensian approach that someone will always have to believe in something (and be loyal to something), BUT I don’t see why it should be Mormonism, or the institution of the LDS church.
Just like I have suspicions on why many disaffected folks stick on points of history, past doctrine, etc., I have suspicions on why those thoughtful Mormons who stay can do so — in both cases, the day-to-day lived experience of absolute rejection is utterly foreign to them. I haven’t done any surveys, but I would imagine that of those who can make the loyalty paradigm continue to work, they demographically would tend to be overwhelmingly white, male, heterosexual, and in wards that give them the room to think differently. So even if they might conceptually propose that, say, LGBT folks might have such a rough time that they might be justified in leaving, this option is probably not vivid in their minds. (One thing that some of the commenters pounced on in John’s Mormon Stories interview with Adam was that he never says it would be OK for someone to permanently separate from Mormonism…at best, he concedes that in some cases, it might be appropriate for someone to separate for a time.)
By Common Consent has a post, Our Sisters Are Leaving, regarding recent events with Ordain Women being snubbed as church PR officials conferenced with opposing group Mormon Women Stand. One commenter had the absolute saddest lines I have ever read:
I felt very disillusioned when I heard how vociferously the church opposed what I saw as worthy goals, even as a child on the verge of womanhood. I understood our church’s opposition to abortion, but there was far more to ERA than that, and the church seemed to oppose it viscerally without noting the points of agreement. I am no longer surprised when the church opposes feminism. I now expect that the church will consistently, at least on an organizational level, do the wrong thing by women.
But…in a way, isn’t that a reasonable position for someone to take? I am also no longer surprised when the church opposes not only feminism, but LGBT issues, etc., I also expect that the church will consistently, at least on an organizational level, do the wrong thing by women, LGBT folks, and so on.
I am totally aware that there is more than one side. There are conservatives who fully believe that the church is doing right on these issues, defending morality from a world that is teetering towards anarchy. (I am also aware that there are those who think that Ordain Women is nefarious because it would give false hopes to its supporters, thus creating the inevitable disillusionment when the church didn’t change.)
I buy the idea that people have to become the change they want to see, that sometimes people have to participate in organizations that they don’t completely agree with, that it can be valuable to be in spaces where people don’t agree with you.
…but loyalty? If I expect an organization to do the wrong thing consistently, why should I be loyal? If faith is a trust, then wouldn’t my expectation that wrong will occur be a failure of trust?