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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtains~! Lived and Living Mormonism

October 28, 2014

There is something fairly remarkable occurring that I don’t quite know how to put my finger on. It has something to do with pastoral apologetics, and how pastoral apologetics is seeking to override base facts. But let me back up.

If I were to summarize the history of Mormon apologetics, I would broadly describe it in two phases. The first phase was the phase of traditional apologetics. This is your FAIR (at least, your old FAIR) and your FARMS. This phase was about showing how the objective claims of the LDS religion were factual (or at least factually possible, given certain interpretations.) This phase was about showing how various strikes against the church were not factual (or that, even if they were factual in part, that critics missed important details or distorted the facts — that there was missing context.)

The basic problem with the traditional apologetic approach is that it’s trying to play a secular epistemological game by secular rules and it simply is not doing (can not do?) this well.

So, some time, we moved into a different phase. And maybe it isn’t correct to describe it as a phase, seeing as its proponents have been around as long as the traditional apologists have. But maybe it’s safer to say that this form is entering ascendancy?

This is the apologetics of care or pastoral apologetics. I don’t consider myself an expert at who’s who in Mormonism, but I see folks like Richard and Claudia Bushman, Dan Wotherspoon, Adam Miller, Seth Payne, Terryl and Fiona Givens, etc., as being pastoral apologetics.

Pastoral apologetics doesn’t care about (or at least, it doesn’t emphasize) proving out the church’s objective truth claims via standard 21st century secular epistemology. (I sometimes wonder whether the proponents avoid doing this because they don’t believe it can be done, but whether they believe it can or can’t is not material to the discussion.) Instead, pastoral apologetics is a refocusing on the lived experience of Mormonism. The argument here is that the good in a lived Mormon life should not be given up because of hiccups in the history.

Adam Miller’s latest post at Times and Seasons that captures this idea:

As Jesus puts it, I can only save my life by losing it. If I try to save my own life, then that life will inevitably be lost.

The irony is that happiness, like meaning, is one of those peculiar things that you can only have as a by-product of something else. It can only be achieved as a side-effect of a life aimed at paying attention to and caring for the world that’s right in front of you.

Happiness and meaning only accrue as a (welcome) by-product when my life and time and attention are aimed at something other than itself. But the more I obsess over happiness and meaning, the farther I get from them.

I think that the same thing is true of Mormonism. If you think that Mormonism is about Mormonism, the same thing happens as when you think that your own life is about you.

Mormonism comes into focus as living and true only when we stop looking directly at it and, instead, aim our attention at what Mormonism is itself aiming at. If you aim right at Mormonism itself, you’ll miss seeing the thing that is crucial with respect to deciding whether it deserves your enduring fidelity.

I’m convinced that these kinds of questions about Mormonism can’t be answered in the abstract. The truthfulness of this claim — that Mormonism is not about Mormonism — has to be tested in the flesh, in the first person, by every person.

You must see what happens to your own heart and your own mind, to your own perception of Mormonism, when you give your full attention not to Mormonism but, by way of Mormonism, to the thing that Mormonism itself aims at.

It’s only by connecting with what Mormonism itself hopes to connect with that you can justify your enduring fidelity to it. Only by forgetting yourself and forgetting Mormonism in the hard work of caring, by way of Mormonism, for what Mormonism cares about can Mormonism itself come into focus.

Let’s admit up front, here, that our Mormon stories involve a whole host things that can only be described as pretty unlikely. Very unlikely. Extremely unlikely.

Angels and miracles and golden books and lost civilizations and life after death and worlds of spirit, etc. These things run afoul of common sense. They run against the grain of the shared world that is publically accessible to everyone. I don’t think there’s any getting around this. These beliefs look crazy from the outside.

And, for my part, I honestly don’t know much about any of these kinds of things. I’ve been going to church for three plus hours every Sunday for almost forty years and I’ve never seen or heard or felt anything supernatural.

I don’t think this is unusual.

I’m not denying that these supernatural things are real or that people don’t have the kind of direct contact with supernatural things that I never have. I’m just saying that they’ve never happened to me and that, at best, I can only speak about them in the third person on the basis of what others say.

But I don’t think that this is a disaster. And I don’t think it means that Mormonism doesn’t work. In fact, Mormonism seems to be working pretty well in transforming me in all kinds of ways that I find to be difficult and uncomfortable and extremely valuable.

But this transformation has also been profoundly ordinary and it has revolved around God trying to get me to stop speculating about other worlds and far off places and supernatural events and to, instead, pay attention to what’s happening right now, in this world, right in front of my own eyes.

I would definitely recommend reading Adam’s post. It’s great for thinking (notwithstanding that Adam’s point continually is that we should be living more rather than gazing at our navels), and I would like if that were the emphasis in church. But as I’ve already said (and will say over and over as pastoral apologists keep putting out this argument), there are two issues with the pastoral apologetic point:

  1. It’s simply not what the institutional church is emphasizing. The institutional church is emphasizing that you should care about objective intellectual truth claims and that living Mormonism is about being able to publicly tell others you believe and know those claims.
  2. Lived Mormonism doesn’t actually fulfill everyone!

This second point is big. I think that Mormonism can work for a lot of people. I think that heteronormative, heterosexual, white and white collar folks will probably benefit a lot from living Mormonism. I don’t even dispute that people who don’t check all of those boxes will inevitably be crushed by Mormonism — but it seems to me that the further away you get from that ideal — and oh, is it so considered an ideal! — you’re going to have issues.

But the first point is also big. Because I know that many of the folks undergoing disaffection aren’t LGBT, aren’t racial minorities, etc., And for them — though they may not necessarily be affected by feminist issues (but might!), though they may not necessarily be affected by race issues (but might!), though they may not necessarily be affected by their sexuality (but might!), so many report being affected by the truth claims and the narrative presented by the church about those truth claims.

So to the extent that pastoral apologetics ask folks to live Mormonism and pay no attention to the man behind the curtains, this too will be a non-starter.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtains

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23 Comments
  1. Good post, sir. And I don’t mind at all having the label of “pastoral” applied to my work and focus. “Apologist” is also okay in the sense that I offer a defense of Mormonism as a place with all the tools and encouragements (though some more buried than the louder emphases that today’s church culture leaders seem to be focusing on) to live an authentic, spirit-filled life, to live out our lives in the “body of Christ” as Adam Miller might say. But your final line, “So to the extent that pastoral apologetics ask folks to live Mormonism and pay no attention to the man behind the curtains, this too will be a non-starter” completely misses as an accurate descriptor of my position (and, I think, that of the others in your list–but I hope they’ll speak for themselves). For me, I’m always aware of and consistently pointing out that there is a man (many men! and women!) behind the curtain, and I’m always pointing out the need for us to be cautious in not confusing bells and whistles and pronouncements that come with a lot of fanfare as actual encounters with Spirit. And I also warn regularly about privileging scriptural texts or prophetic pronouncements without making them prove themselves worthy of being taken as genuine guidance for us. If you listen to me a lot, you’ll hear me mention David Steindl-Rast’s volcano metaphor (and our interacting with cooled rock rather than the hot flow), and Stephen Carter’s model of how intense experiences become memories or distillations that we interact with rather than the thing themselves. So “pay no attention…” Nope! ALWAYS pay attention to all the factors that might be influencing us. Dive regularly ourselves. That’s the flavor of my “pastoral apologetics” (or at least what I think I’m consistent in emphasizing).

    Cheers! Thanks, again, for the excellent post!
    Dan Wotherspoon

  2. Thanks for commenting Dan.

    As an aside, I think one thing that I especially would have liked to hear more about (it’s been teased at in many of your episodes, but most especially the “Being Authentic within Mormonism”) is that apparently, you have moved through your own period/time of anger, dissatisfaction, hurt, and come to a place where you can attend, appreciate people where they are at, etc.,

    But there doesn’t seem to be a lot of explanation of how you’ve done this, or how other people can do this (other than the commonly stated theme that it takes a lot more time than people typically spend). That’s the disconnect I hear so often in the podcasts, at the very least, and it’s the disconnect.

    Anyway, responding to your comment:

    But your final line, “So to the extent that pastoral apologetics ask folks to live Mormonism and pay no attention to the man behind the curtains, this too will be a non-starter” completely misses as an accurate descriptor of my position (and, I think, that of the others in your list–but I hope they’ll speak for themselves). For me, I’m always aware of and consistently pointing out that there is a man (many men! and women!) behind the curtain, and I’m always pointing out the need for us to be cautious in not confusing bells and whistles and pronouncements that come with a lot of fanfare as actual encounters with Spirit.

    Maybe I should be clearer on what I’m analogizing as the “man behind the curtain” in this instance. I don’t quite mean “man” as in an actual, physical man (e.g., the men and women who we might distinguish as being “in power” or “the brethren” or “the leaders” etc.,). Instead, I mean it more about the ideas and concepts we are taught to value, and which the church continues to teach us to value — these are ideas about objective truth claims being more important, ideas about spiritual realities being most important. Although maybe these are tied with the actual, physical people “in charge” as it were.

    In other words, the critique of pastoral apologetics is that to say, “Get out of your head and live with your heart,” (which, correct me if I’m mis-paraphrasing, because I actually do like what I think the idea is saying, but I actually do believe this is something you say several times on your podcasts, and I still think it has practical challenges) misses that the reason this faith crisis occurred is because the church itself socialized people to live in their heads, as it were. Like, we can talk about how we probably are referring to terms like “faith” and “belief” in a strange new way that wouldn’t have described how people used these terms hundreds of years ago (e.g., faith/belief as loyalty, trust, instead of intellectual assent) but if you try to live that in 2014 Mormonism, you will have issues, whether with yourself or with others.

    And there is this sense (not necessarily from you, Adam, the Bushmans, or the Givens, but from other comments I saw on FB that pretty much inspired this post) in which some liberal-ish scholarly type Mormons (don’t really know what a good description here is) simply do not understand why people care or get upset about issues in history or about truth claims…like, why anyone cares about it at all. But there’s a reason why people care, and why people get upset.

    Anyway, I’m totally with you on the volcano metaphor, definitely think this is a problem to work with the solidified rock rather than the living lava, etc., etc., etc., but I think there’s an issue here in that not everyone is going to have an encounter with the spirit (and not everyone is going to have encounters with the spirit in the church). But at the same time, there is an extent to which the solidified rock absolutely has become an institutionally placed stumblingblock, so working around the solidified rock is not easy, fulfilling, etc.,

  3. Time is a huge part of it. As Fowler describes, it’s rare before midlife for folks to really become settled in a Stage 5 “both/and” and “separate the symbols from what’s being pointed to” orientation. But, for me, great conversations with mentors and reading great spiritual thinkers also helped a lot. And more Mormon specific, serving others and sharing my gifts (even in their less-developed states) and trying to be open with them all were big parts of the process. It kept me in touch with goodness and real folks with real lives and real courage who still at the same time weren’t aware of the issues I was alerted to, and who would not be well served to “go there” with me. The fact of the latter never negated the fact of their goodness and that they were worthy of my admiration and were folks I could learn from. Eventually, as peace came to me, it became more and more simply a natural thing to be patient with them and grant them the grace that I experience now and would always have wished for when I was in the midst of my darkest times.

    There’s not doubt that the institution and its leaders focus more on claims and testimony of claims than they do the tougher stuff that is the life in the Spirit. They are “general” authorities and respond to the place where the general membership resides. (Which, again, if you grant anything to Fowler’s evaluations, is at Stage 3 with slight awareness of Stage 4.) I think many of them haven’t really ever questioned the truth claims of Mormonism themselves, so they don’t know how to guide us toward something richer. But many have, and we can pick up the scent of their awareness in many of their remarks, and for that I’m always glad and take heart in. But just because the center of gravity (or focus) in Mormonism isn’t yet where it should be doesn’t excuse me (if I indeed feel called to it because of my own peace) from trying to be a champion for the deeper path of individual spiritual awakening. Jesus took Judaism where it was and spoke to deeper resources within it to both challenge the status quo and expand vision. Martin Luther King, Jr. did the same with the black church (certainly standing on the shoulders of Gandhi, and also of other black church leaders), calling it to deeper principles than what were currently being highlighted at that moment. I’m in NO WAY putting myself in their category; I offer this only as a way of saying a defeatist attitude toward working for change just because leaders and cultural gravity aren’t there (yet) is a non-starter (a term you use a few times in the post) for me.

    I do get why “people care or get upset about issues in history or about truth claims.” I did and do still, as well (though now more about how claims serve pragmatically–are they helping or stifling enlargement?–than their actual “truth” in a correspondence sort of way). It’s part of the human journey that we start out of a certainty (from the way we were raised and enculturated, whether religiously, ethnically, or in terms of nationalism or even “how OUR family does things”) and then systematically evaluate all of those things and come to find the gold there and learn to toss (yet still understand the power of and the “why” of those coming into being the way they were and have compassion for them) that which no longer serves our growth. I’m sorry when I forget to always say that outloud, but that history in my own life of moving from claims to the sources of the claims (good and less good) is always present in my mind.

  4. Re the issue of faith as shifting from trust in God to beliefs about God, etc,, you’re absolutely right that that is what has happened! And in case you may have missed this one and may want to mine it for additional language or sources, we had a good discussion of that problem and history or it on this episode of Mormon Matters:

    http://mormonmatters.org/2013/10/21/199-untangling-faith-belief-and-the-expectation-to-know/

    Cheers!
    Dan

  5. Dan,

    I guess the non-satisfying answer with time is that many people will decide that in the mean time, it’s better just to leave and not look back — even if that will cause a lot of pain in the present. I mean, from the outside looking in, it looks like people subjecting themselves to a lot of pain, annoyance, aggression (whether passive or otherwise) from their fellow ward members, from the institutional church, from their family…with just the off-chance that they’ll become *numb* to this in the future. And I can imagine that you wouldn’t say that your patience and peace is numbness, but that’s how it looks from the outset/outside. You say you grant people the patience/peace/grace you would have wished for in your darkest times. But the experience of many (including you, is it not? [I’m thinking of I think it was your son’s ordination? Where you didn’t get to do it…or was it baptism?]) is that people don’t actually get that patience/peace/grace. I was very struck by what either Adam or Jefferson said in response to this story — they said they would not have taken that well. They would not look back at that story years later and say, “Well, you know, maybe I did spook the Bishop/SP, and I shouldn’t do that in the future, but no big deal.” And I think that’s true for a lot of people.)

    I mean, yes, conceptually I’m all for people keeping up with goodness and real lives and being invested in people and all (although I am practically and personally more of an introvert here), BUT it seems to me that I can choose whether to subject myself to a community that I’m not going to agree on 90% of things, and which isn’t really sure if they actually want me…or choose to go to a community that isn’t actual hostile to me. No matter how much reconceptualizing I can do in the pastoral sense, this is going to be true, because it’s the church as an institution that is setting the game rules here.

    So, moving to your comments about the institution, the ‘center’ of the church membership, etc.,

    But just because the center of gravity (or focus) in Mormonism isn’t yet where it should be doesn’t excuse me (if I indeed feel called to it because of my own peace) from trying to be a champion for the deeper path of individual spiritual awakening.

    I actually like your comments pointing out that the church institutionally will address the center, and the center is at stage 3, as it were. HOWEVER, I would say that as it is centered here, it is actively hostile to folks in other stages. So you may not be excused from trying to be a champion, but your championing may (and often will be) understood as heretical.

    Jesus took Judaism where it was and spoke to deeper resources within it to both challenge the status quo and expand vision. Martin Luther King, Jr. did the same with the black church (certainly standing on the shoulders of Gandhi, and also of other black church leaders), calling it to deeper principles than what were currently being highlighted at that moment. I’m in NO WAY putting myself in their category; I offer this only as a way of saying a defeatist attitude toward working for change just because leaders and cultural gravity aren’t there (yet) is a non-starter (a term you use a few times in the post) for me.

    yeah, so, the big problem with all of these folks (and which is recognized as a feature of stage 6 in general) is that all of these folks *died* for their causes. But in particular, Jesus didn’t actually take Judaism and speak to deeper resources. Jesus *broke* away from Judaism (or at least was rejected by the Jewish institution). When I see what Martin Luther King Jr did, I don’t see the transformation as widely for the black church, but to the larger society (so maybe I’ll have to read more there)…but the answer there is similar…that larger society also rejected him and killed him.

    Obviously, none of us is in that same category, and so none of us are at risk of actually being killed here, but the rejection will not just happen to stage 6ers…but also to stage 5, stage 4 and folks teetering in between stage 3 and state 4 incompletely. So, still the question remains — why continue to participate in an institution that caters itself to stage 3 (e.g., where the institution is the locus of value, as it were rather than the individual) and that is wary of people outside of stage 3.

    Plus, on top of this, haven’t you said plenty of times that you shouldn’t stay just because you think you can change the church? So, I mean, i get what you said earlier about having your own encounter with the spirit (I don’t think most people get this, but conceptually, I get it), and then from there, you will be motivated to do what you do, but for the rest of us, it doesn’t work out quite like that.

    Finally, moving on to the pragmatic evaluation of truth claims, I guess people are often just skeptical on how the pristine, inaccurate narrative of the church leads to enlargement. And as we sort out what to keep and what to toss, it’s difficult to say why we shouldn’t toss the institution itself, which *continues* to promulgate that narrative. (Notwithstanding the recent essay series, which are causing their own problems because they jar people)

    P.S., I’ll have to see if I hadn’t already checked out that podcast on faith and the expectation to know, but I believe I had…which is why I wanted to throw in that paraphrase. Because to me, it flows with my criticism — even if we know that’s how things have happened, the fact is, here we are in 2014. So “living Mormonism” involves living with this, and if we can’t (which is the basic problem for people who have a faith crisis), then there’s a big issue that pastoral apologists have not adequately solved.

  6. Wow, so much to respond to! (panting!)

    Re time, absolutely people can decide it’s not worth it. I did, at least to a decent degree, for about four years, but I’m glad I didn’t feel like I was necessarily making a drastic step. I am glad I stayed in the questions for all those years, and that I stay in the struggle now. More than anything, I’m not overly stressed when anyone decides to leave Mormonism if they still are open to spiritual journeying and exploring themselves beyond just the sorts of things that our senses and rational minds can work with. I also don’t like to let stand outright rejections of Mormonism when they originate from totalizing of one’s own experiences with a narrow brand/band of it and saying that small slice is the whole pizza. (I know in some ways I “totalize” from my positive experiences with what I see are rich Mormon resources, so call me a hypocrite there if you’d like. Know, however, that I do appreciate many great paths that are non-theistic and even fully secular.)

    No, people don’t always treat others with grace. I don’t always treat others that way, either. I’m often the target of suspicion (once even had a dude jump away suddenly and not-so-jokingly saying it was so he didn’t get struck by the lightening bolt that was surely coming my way soon), and I often don’t trust or want to associate with certain others, as well. Human things, I can handle, though. I’m better at it now than I once was, and my life, IMO, is richer for it. (And don’t forget, I’m old! Can’t tell you how much I think just time and experiences of all kinds work their wonders on us.)

    Is the institutional church really setting the game rules when it comes to interpersonal interactions among members? I’m not so sure. Most of its messages are about acceptance and love and striving with those who are in pain. It’s us in our smallness, fear, and/or lack of centering, that turn difference and exploration into shunning, suspicion, etc. But you’d also be surprised how “handling something well” when folks get off track on stuff like this can make a difference. Even if it’s just planting a seed and then another and another, being a stand-up person for yourself and any others who are different is powerful!

    You’ll like an upcoming MM episode, I think. It’s in the can already, and I’ll release it either next (or after I do one on the proposed changes to BYU religion’s scripture curriculum). It addresses more head on institutional development. A little Fowler-like stuff there about how and why institutions grow, and so often way more slowly than we’d like.

    We can talk Jesus and Judaism and MLK and other reformers another time. We’re probably on more of the same basic wavelength there than in most of the things in the rest of our exchanges.

    To your “why continue to participate in an institution that caters itself to stage 3 (e.g., where the institution is the locus of value, as it were rather than the individual) and that is wary of people outside of stage 3.” question: Why do parents cater to and teach their kids who are at earlier stages of development than they are? Love. Concern. Remembering when that way of thinking/acting was “us” and yet knowing that we have wider perspectives now that serve us well.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said I stay in order to help the church transform. If I did, I certainly don’t think that way often. That the church changes because of me (that my family changes, my neighbors and my wards change, those who perhaps stumble upon something good in these podcasts change) simply is the case. A by-product, not the goal. And I think that’s how life works, as well. I know you’ve read (you’ve commented on) Adam Miller’s Letters to a CES Student blog post at Times and Seasons and that John Dehlin started a thread on. It’s the same thing Adam’s talking about. We have to give up (willingly or stubbornly after much exhaustion–for most of us it’s the latter case!) our agendas (ideas, formulations that once worked but now show the torn fabric, etc.) and just live in grace to whatever degree we have found it. Everyone changes everyone they touch–for good or ill. At some point, we just have to make peace with the fact that we change others, too, and that we will never fully know if each interaction was a positive or negative until, as William James says, we hear “the cries of the wounded” left in our wake. “The solid meaning of life is always the same eternal thing—the marriage, namely of some unhabitual ideal . . . with some man’s or woman’s pains.” No good deed can be judged in advance, but only ex post facto by measuring those cries. Nevertheless, he notes that it is not part of our nature as human beings to simply stand by and not attempt to improve our lives and the world we live in. Our deepest drives vote “always for the richer universe, for the good which seems . . . most fit to enter into complex combinations, most apt to be a member of a more inclusive whole.” So, change is not a goal per se, just a vote with my feet and soul for what feels richer and more inclusive to me, with sincere anguish over the fact that I will undoubtedly hurt some others along the way.

    Finally, you write: “I guess people are often just skeptical on how the pristine, inaccurate narrative of the church leads to enlargement.” Here, and we’ve talked at other times about this, I think you’re focusing on the story, storyteller, and delivery rather than what the stories point to. Mormonism’s story, and that of all Christianity and eastern religions as well, points toward surrender of ego/wants/desires that originate in our “natural man” state (given to us by our upbringing and taught via osmosis and other ways by our culture and friends and enemies) and as we do allowing the flow of Spirit/Tao/Brahma/Logos/Universe to show us our deeper selves and how even more powerful energies are ours to embody. If I ever use the term “pristine” to describe the Mormon narrative, that would be the only sense that I would ever be thinking about.

    You’re right on the last thing. No one has “solved” the problem of mistaking faith for belief, nor any of the other problems. We can only solve them for ourselves through becoming grounded in the genuine stuff ourselves, and then perhaps we’ll model this something deeper to others who will be moved and do the same dives. Slowly but surely things DO change! And typically for the better!

  7. Dan,

    Feel free to think on things or put this little old site on the backburner if it’s too much to respond at this moment. (That’s one thing I like about blogs over FB…things don’t have to be as rapidly paced).

    Re: remaining open to spiritual journeying, I think there is a sense in which many people are turned completely off of religion and spirituality based on their experiences in organized religions in general, but also Mormonism in particular. I think there could be a lot of conversation on that, but I will say that while I am skeptical (again, I just don’t think people have the *experiences*), I am OK with that concept of being open.

    As far as totalizing one’s experiences with a narrow band and saying the whole thing is the pizza…I would agree with this in *principle*, but in *practice*, I don’t think that is what is happening for disaffected folks. I think there is simply a big disagreement on what is more representative of Mormonism. As a result, i wouldn’t necessarily argue that it’s hypocritical for you to totalize the positive. Instead, it just seems there is profound disagreement of what is more representative of Mormonism. This is why, over and over, there is the refrain, “Your vision of Mormonism sounds nice, but that’s just not what I’m seeing. That’s just not the reality in 2014.”

    I mean, I don’t necessarily think this is conclusive, but have you ever gotten criticisms from really conservative/orthodox folks when they catch on to what you’re saying? This is something Adam’s gotten for sure. Don’t know about the Bushmans and the Givens. But the thing about this is…it’s not as if the disaffected and the conservative/orthodox are disagreeing. Both of these groups typically agree about what the church is…one finds it to be divinely instituted as such, and the ohter finds it to be evidence of its fraudulence.

    So, when the “liberal” Mormons come through, I see y’all getting flak from both sides — because what you’re promulgating simply is not what most folks experience.

    Regarding failure to treat others with grace and whether this is institutional or personal, I think most disaffected people would absolutely say this is institutional. The messages we hear from up top are not “about acceptance and love and striving with those who are in pain,” but about defending from persecution from a wicked world, rejecting sin, etc., Maybe you could say that there are messages about saving lost loved ones, but the implication from this is not loving. (Like “love the sinner, not the sin.” That word simply doesn’t fit.) Whatever smallness we see from members is definitely perceived to flow directly from the narrative promulgated institutionally…these aren’t just people acting on their own. This is people doing their best to follow what they have learned from leaders — people who could point to various things from the institution supporting them. People who if you tried to challenge them would note that it is you who is not institutionally supported. I definitely understand that people can be petty and small anywhere, so it’s not like being outside the church will help, but the forms of pettiness and smallness we see are distinctly institutionally promoted.

    I will look forward to the future episode, but I will caution that just telling *why* an institution is the way it is does not make it more tolerable to live through and with. In fact, the more likely thing that will occur is that it will just solidify that the institution is not divine, not inspired — because we can so easily explain it in terms of human, non-inspired, non-divine org psychology. And if so, if we still decide an institution is important (which isn’t given), why not take our pick of non-divine, non-inspired, human organizations? Especially of ones that don’t CLAIM to be divine and inspired over and over!

    To your “why continue to participate in an institution that caters itself to stage 3 (e.g., where the institution is the locus of value, as it were rather than the individual) and that is wary of people outside of stage 3.” question: Why do parents cater to and teach their kids who are at earlier stages of development than they are? Love. Concern. Remembering when that way of thinking/acting was “us” and yet knowing that we have wider perspectives now that serve us well.

    Many problematic things about analogies like this. Parents aren’t divine, inspired, etc., (But maybe you accept the the LDS church isn’t divine, inspired, etc., so let’s not get hung up on this.) Parents can mess up and BADLY. (But maybe you accept this, so let’s not get hung up on this.) There are often many good reasons to separate from one’s parents on a permanent basis (and you accept this from earlier in your comment), but even if one does not, as a *rite of passage*, we separate from our parents as a natural part of maturation. (This may be a little ethnocentric, though, so sorry about that. But as a plus, this actually probably does well to sorta describe 4 then 5…)

    But here’s the thing: if my parents still treated me like a child when I was an adult, that could very well be a dealbreaker. At some point, as an adult, my interaction with my parents is based on the fact that we are both adults. If they refuse to do that, then this is a big issue. Even if they claim to love you.

    But essentially, this is how being a member of the church. You can essentially never be an “adult” because you are *always* judged on the stage 3/”child” rules.

    I don’t think I’ve ever said I stay in order to help the church transform. If I did, I certainly don’t think that way often.

    I agree. In fact, you’ve said that it’s not advisable to make this a primary reason to stay. I wanted to allude to that because your talk of reformers as a reason to stay didn’t make sense with your previous statements.

    Our deepest drives vote “always for the richer universe, for the good which seems . . . most fit to enter into complex combinations, most apt to be a member of a more inclusive whole.” So, change is not a goal per se, just a vote with my feet and soul for what feels richer and more inclusive to me, with sincere anguish over the fact that I will undoubtedly hurt some others along the way.

    And I guess the issue here is — the entire reason I’m writing this post in response to Adam Miller’s post in specific but ALSO indirectly to other folks I’ve seen promulgate similar kinds of things (hence the link to you, Bushmans, Givenses, etc.,) — part of the faith crisis is coming to an awareness or intuition or understanding or realization that Mormonism is *not* a world that feels richer and more inclusive. Mormonism *is* the smaller, more closed off world. So, as you tell people to vote with their feet and stay in Mormonism, it definitely sounds like you’re telling people to stay in a smaller world. I mean, you don’t see it that way — but that’s what everyone is responding: “hey, your vision of Mormonism sounds nice, but it’s just not what I live.” “This might work for you, but it wouldn’t work for me as a woman/LGBT/racial minority.” Even worse, because of the church’s emphasis on historical truth claims, Mormonism is not even more inclusive for someone who simply doesn’t believe in its truth claims.

    Finally, you write: “I guess people are often just skeptical on how the pristine, inaccurate narrative of the church leads to enlargement.” Here, and we’ve talked at other times about this, I think you’re focusing on the story, storyteller, and delivery rather than what the stories point to.

    This is because my thesis — and my huge criticism of Miller, you, et al — is that “lived Mormonism” put the story, storyteller, and delivery up front in the first place. The disaffected person is not the one who first came up with these grandiose ideas about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and pinned their testimony on this. The church was. But even more…the church is. In 2014, it still does so. For a pastoral apologist to say, “Hey, focus more on what the stories point to and live Mormonism” is not describing lived Mormonism.

    It may be true that our modern Mormonism is more hardened rock than living lava — I get the analogy, I do, and I like it! honestly! — but that hardened rock *is* modern Mormonism.

    Mormonism’s story, and that of all Christianity and eastern religions as well, points toward surrender of ego/wants/desires that originate in our “natural man” state (given to us by our upbringing and taught via osmosis and other ways by our culture and friends and enemies) and as we do allowing the flow of Spirit/Tao/Brahma/Logos/Universe to show us our deeper selves and how even more powerful energies are ours to embody.

    So, to make this something that an average Mormon (or Christian, etc.,) would agree to, you would need to be specific on what the “natural man” is. The natural man includes things like being LGBT in a relationship, of course. Our deeper selves that the Spirit will show us to are heterosexual.

    ^Now, at this time, you might say that that is something we should surrender — something we were given by our upbringing and taught via osmosis, etc., by our culture. (That is definitely channeling Adam Miller — that when our ideas about what Mormonism fall apart, that is Mormonism working, as it goes.) But when you surrender this, you are not returning to the pure Mormon narrative. You are actually now an apostate against the church, against revelation like the proclamation on the family, against the general authorities, etc., etc.,

    That’s the thing.

    • I only have fifteen mins to reply before heading to a thing tonight, so I’ll only touch on pieces of your comment here and there.

      You write: “…it’s not as if the disaffected and the conservative/orthodox are disagreeing. Both of these groups typically agree about what the church is…one finds it to be divinely instituted as such, and the ohter finds it to be evidence of its fraudulence.

      So, when the “liberal” Mormons come through, I see y’all getting flak from both sides — because what you’re promulgating simply is not what most folks experience.”

      Getting flak is never fun, of course, but it comes with the territory when anyone puts out something that isn’t typical and surface-y. But what sticks in your mind and works on your soul better: agreement or conflict (especially when you sense, even if it’s below conscious thought at the moment, that there is something to what the other is saying)? How can we grow if we don’t meet and hear others whose experience doesn’t match our own? And why should we accept only two options for what the church is?

      You write: “Regarding failure to treat others with grace and whether this is institutional or personal, I think most disaffected people would absolutely say this is institutional. The messages we hear from up top are not “about acceptance and love and striving with those who are in pain,” but about defending from persecution from a wicked world, rejecting sin, etc., Maybe you could say that there are messages about saving lost loved ones, but the implication from this is not loving. (Like “love the sinner, not the sin.” That word simply doesn’t fit.) Whatever smallness we see from members is definitely perceived to flow directly from the narrative promulgated institutionally…these aren’t just people acting on their own. This is people doing their best to follow what they have learned from leaders — people who could point to various things from the institution supporting them. People who if you tried to challenge them would note that it is you who is not institutionally supported. I definitely understand that people can be petty and small anywhere, so it’s not like being outside the church will help, but the forms of pettiness and smallness we see are distinctly institutionally promoted.”

      I just flat out reject everything you’re saying here. Let’s do a dialogue sometime where I’ll represent me and you represent what you think is institutional talk regarding how we treat others. I think your assertions about what the institutional message is will fall apart very quickly. No need to find quotes or anything, let’s just talk it out.

      Gotta run. Will try to engage again tomorrow.

  8. Your comment about white collar ideal raised an eyebrow for me. I’m firmly white collar, and I’m not sure that’s right. It seems to me that most white collar folks are feminist, but then again, my 13 years with American Express are doubtless coloring my perception. The weirdest thing I ever saw was when I met up with some bloggers in downtown SLC and saw dozens of white collar men in full suits and ties out for lunch and many women in very casual (not professional) attire pushing strollers and wandering around. There were no professional women anywhere to be seen. Not one. This was 2013. It’s possible some of the women I saw worked, but not in white collar, business attire. It was incredibly strange. So I don’t think it’s white collar that’s the ideal because these women aren’t. The ideal is completely different for men than for women. When Austen said “Men of sense do not want silly wives,” she had never been to SLC (or perhaps they are not men of sense).

  9. hawkgrrrl,

    I think that there are too many white collar folks to peg their politics — but maybe that’s me living in Texas??? but I do think that being feminist will be a “lived” issue. But what I was getting at with the white collar is that — although I haven’t really done a formal study — I would guess that if you looked at leadership positions throughout the church (for men, though…as you allude, the church environment is going to look much different when women are concerned) and then looked at the jobs and careers that were represented, it would skew toward more white collar positions represented in leadership.

    I mean, correct me if that doesn’t sound right. I mean, I’ve seen plenty of people explain why it’s OK for that to happen, but all of the posts I’ve seen that talk about it seem to assume this is the case.

  10. Craig S. permalink

    Great post, Andrew. I’m also really enjoying the discussion between you and Dan. I want to bring up something from Adam Miller’s article that hasn’t been talked about much yet.

    “As Jesus puts it, I can only save my life by losing it. If I try to save my own life, then that life will inevitably be lost.”

    I don’t actually think this is true, at least not universally. Some people do give so much of themselves that they use themselves up, and they don’t end up happy at all. And other people try to live a balanced life that is nonetheless centered on being aware of their own needs and making sure those needs are met. And it’s possible to be quite successful at that. So as a general rule to try not to be selfish, I can get behind that, but as the key for everybody to be happy, and as the cornerstone of his analogy for why we can’t look at what Mormonism is to figure out what Mormonism is about, it falls short.

    • I don’t think that’s necessarily what the meaning behind the phrase/scripture, so I’m not sure if your response really hits it. That being said, I think there are reasons people might disagree with that scirpture

      • craigstiles permalink

        Well, that was the meaning I always got from its application in Mormonism. I’m sure there are plenty of other ways that the scripture can be interpreted, but that was the interpretation that seemed to be emphasized the most in church manuals and conference talks. If Adam is using a different interpretation (and given the rest of his work, he probably is), that only supports your argument that the Mormonism he is advocating didn’t match up to the lived experience of most Mormons.

        • yeah, I deeeefffinnitely see a lot of reinterpretation throughout, so yeah, definitely agree here.

  11. I don’t think that Miller/Givens/et al. are advancing an apologetic, but rather a hermeneutic of Mormonism. When I say hermeneutic, it’s important to understand what’s being read – at least the entirety of Mormon experience must be interpreted, and at most the entire history of the world (because Mormonism attempts to tell the world-historical story). Their system wedges itself below any number of historical or theological concerns by reading them as contrary to the central and defining redeeming praxis. When the dissenters have a problem, the problem can only be that we’ve been misreading Mormonism.

    I’m not a huge fan of this reading. It seems pretty tendentious and weird to say that questions regarding BoM historicity are “above your pay grade”, while simultaneously concluding that Mormonism was designed by God with such perplexities by design. This seems like a pretty high pay question!

    We can’t get away with arguing that Mormonism is really an intelligently designed agnostic soul-making program just because we like Mormon praxis. We need a much better interpretation than this.

    • Chris,

      I can definitely see what you’re saying — that this really is more of a hermeneutic. At the same time, I sense and read an apologetic into it. Given x reading of Mormonism, one should stick with it.

      I also think I agree with you on the problem of bracketing historicity and other fact claims while pointing out that this was part of design. I have thought for a long time that this framework — that uncertainty is needed by design to preserve and provide value to one’s choices — seemed to be a “double whammy” sort of situation for theism in general and certain religions in particular. It seems like uncertainty regarding consequences, outcomes, etc., is good enough. But here, not only is uncertainty regarding consequences established, but also uncertainty regarding provenance.

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