But can apologetics of care override the facts?
At Faith Promoting Rumor, smallaxe has written an article discussing the apologetics of care. This is not the first article to discuss a move away from the traditional sort of apologetics, as Seth Payne presented on pastoral apologetics at FAIR’s 2013 conference. (I thought I recalled some posts at By Common Consent or Times and Seasons with a similar emphasis, but I can’t find them now.)
The pastoral/care view reframes disaffection away from the intellectual issues (after all, there are plenty of people who know all the “problem spots” of Mormonism and yet stay) by situating it onto the social. Disaffection is not so much about finding out that the church isn’t true as it is finding out that the church doesn’t fit. From smallaxe’s post:
An apologetics of care seeks to reconfigure the context that induces feelings such as frustration, fear, and anger. It does not seek to remove these feelings since they serve important moral functions (frustration can signal, for instance, the fact that something valuable cannot be tended to); rather it seeks to validate these feelings through a process of sympathy (discussed below). An apologetics of care recognizes that people are relational beings seeking concern, comfort, and communion often before seeking an answer to a question. It recognizes that answers to intellectual concerns, provided without tending to the relationships they invoke, all too often fail to recognize the reasons for anger and frustration. The question of Joseph’s polyandry, for instance, isn’t simply a question about how a prophet could marry a woman who is already married to someone else and still be a prophet; rather it is also tied to our relationships with church leaders (why haven’t the leaders of the church discussed this more openly?) and/or our relationship with our spouse (will I have to share my spouse with someone else in the eternities?), among others. An apologetics of care seeks to recognize the fact of vulnerability—the things we care about most, our relationships with others, are by nature vulnerable to other forces in the world, but they are also vulnerable to our changing beliefs. Care apologetics is apologetic in the sense of decreasing the need for frustration and anger by eliminating the space of fear and loneliness. It provides reasons for people to stay by recognizing vulnerability as shared—that we care when someone else hurts, even if we cannot fully understand their pain.
I like this approach. Even though I understand that many disaffected folks would disagree with me, I think that many instances of disaffection ultimately are not about “the facts” as much as they are about more emotional or personal considerations. For example, with issues of gender equality, LGBT issues, racial issues, and so on, it seems clearer to me to understand that these are issues in terms of the church’s engagement with people. These aren’t intellectual concerns (although one can certain place them in an intellectual framework. Where I’d go one step further is to say that even an issue with translation methods or historical recollection isn’t so much an issue with the fact as to say, a sense of betrayal. A sense that an institution that was viewed as ultimately trustworthy just doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore. How can one have faith — in a sense of faith as loyalty, when one doesn’t find the thing the faith was placed in to be worth being loyal to?
So, I like how smallaxe frames the issue. The question of Joseph’s polyandry, for instance, isn’t simply a question about how a prophet could marry a woman who is already married to someone else and still be a prophet; rather it is also tied to our relationships with church leaders (why haven’t the leaders of the church discussed this more openly?) and/or our relationship with our spouse (will I have to share my spouse with someone else in the eternities?), among others.
However, my issue with this sort of approach — as it is with most apologetic approaches — is that I just don’t think it can square with the facts.
I don’t mean, say, the facts of polyandry.
I mean the facts of many wards, the facts of church culture, the facts of how the church presents itself.
In my opinion, the language of doubt should be replaced by language of wonder. So it’s not that “I doubt that Joseph Smith is a prophet because he practiced polyandry”; rather, it’s “I wonder how someone that participates in polyandry can still be a prophet.”
…but it’s not as if people got their ideas about what it means to be a prophet out of thin air. They were taught that, and the church did the teaching. Even if one can come up with some sort of reconceptualization of the prophetic concept to satisfy the wonder of how someone who participates in polyandry can still be a prophet, this concept may not be accepted in church.
Can smallaxe really relieve the frustration and loneliness when it is the institutional church that is creating the environment for such loneliness?
Maybe I’m just too much of a cynical person, but the thing that saddens me about people who are taking what I find to be a refreshing approach to Mormonism specifically or to religion in general is the idea that they work in spite of the institutional church. Their actions are in counter to the traps and pitfalls and stumbling blocks that the institutional church set up.