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Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and the Progressive Exmormon Plan of Happiness

July 19, 2015

Now that it’s been a year since Kate Kelly’s excommunication, she has written an op ed for the Salt Lake Tribune discussing her change in thoughts since then. To summarize:

When I was excommunicated from the Mormon church just over a year ago, I was widely quoted as saying, “Don’t leave. Stay, and make things better.” Many felt that asking women to stay in a church that doesn’t value them as equals was confusing and dangerous. While probably true, at the time I was torn. I didn’t want them to succeed in forcing us out of a space we had fought so hard to claim.

I wish now to amend my original advice: If the church does not “spark joy” in you, leave with your head held high.

Similar statements have been made by major (excommunicated) players of the online progressive Mormon spaces, such as John Dehlin. The basic idea is this: if you can make things work, then stay. But if you can’t, then leaving is OK too.

This seems to be a very balanced approach. Yet, as this tumblr post points out, what at first seems to be balanced can be read in a much more one-sided way.

…If you want to stay, that’s fine with us. We’re the LAST people in the whole world who would want to make you choose one way or another. If we’re being totally honest, it is a little weird to us that you would want to participate in such an irredeemably ugly and oppressive organization. But it’s your choice, and we fully support that. Making choices for yourself is super healthy, and we would never stand in the way of the choice to stay in a male-dominated sexist gulag like the Mormon Church, however puzzling it might be to us.

This is brutal, yet I have to admit that this sort of thing kinda runs through a certain strand of progressive (ex?)Mormon thinking. And so I thought: what does it mean to really be neutral regarding a person’s participation in Mormonism? Can one be neutral on this, or will one always betray leaning one way or another?

My best answer is that perhaps one can’t really necessarily be neutral — you either think that the LDS church is sexist or you don’t — but one can be contextually nuanced. In other words, the position that this tumblr post implies is that the progressive excommunicated Mormon thinks that his or her judgments are universally applicable to the church and its members.

As it says:

You should always follow your bliss, even if it destroys your dignity and turns you into a slave. We are super committed to people making choice for themselves, even if such choices ultimately build the shovel that will dig their own early graves.

Because it really is your choice. A weird choice, to be sure. To be frank, literally impossible to comprehend that you would choose–actually choose–bondage and darkness and humiliation when you could be an actual person, breathing the euphoric air of freedom and jubilation and glee and ecstasy and euphoria and rapture.

But I think that even if Mormonism, really, truly, profoundly doesn’t work for a person, they should still be able to see that it can still (nevertheless!) really, truly, profoundly work for others.

I like to say that Mormonism doesn’t really work well for me as a gay, nonbelieving black man…and I would like to think that for other members of those categories (whether separately or in combination), Mormonism probably won’t work out so well for them either…and yet…I have to recognize that there are gay people for whom Mormonism profoundly works for them. I have to recognize that there are black people for whom Mormonism profoundly works for them. There are non-conventionally believing (or maybe even completely nonbelieving) people for whom Mormonism profoundly works. And there are various combinations and permutations of these and other traits.

That interests me, these days. I want to understand why these people who seem to be on the margins still find meaning and fulfillment in this religion.

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  1. I think that for a lot of us in those categories, we are learning that there is nothing that is wanted from us.

  2. Agellius permalink

    “I want to understand why these people who seem to be on the margins still find meaning and fulfillment in this religion.”

    Maybe because they place the religion above themselves; they submit to it rather than insisting that it submit to them.

    • Yes, but the question is: what do they get from this submission? If the answer is: “they don’t necessarily get anything, because they are the ones submitting” then that doesn’t seem to provide a lot of explanatory power. “They submit because they do, regardless of how it affects them, what they think, or what they feel”

      • Agellius permalink

        Presumably whatever most devoutly religious people get from the religion they believe in: Primarily, a satisfying understanding of the origin, meaning and purpose of life, a sense of communion with God and fellowship with others, a sense of moral direction, the hope of life after death, and so forth. Why should these things be different for people who are “on the margins”?

        • Yeah, but that doesn’t answer my question. “How/Why do people on the margins still find meaning and fulfillment in this religion?”

          “Because they do”

  3. Agellius permalink

    I think they should be able to find meaning and fulfillment in this religion for the same reasons that anyone else does.

    Let me turn the question around: Why shouldn’t they? It seems the only reason you think they shouldn’t, is that the religion disagrees with their inclinations, at least in the case of gays. But people who believe in God generally believe that God knows better than they do; and therefore if God commands them to do something, they will do it, even if it’s difficult or causes suffering. And if such a person believes that a particular religion was revealed by God for the purpose of making his will known to human beings, then they will place the teachings of that religion above their own opinions and conclusions about life. They will assume that the religion knows better than they do, and therefore will not have a problem submitting to its teachings, and thereby find the same fulfillment in it that anyone else does.

    This is the attitude that religious people generally take towards revealed religions in which they have placed their faith. It’s not only homosexuals who have to fight against what appear to be their natural inclinations in order to be obedient to God (as defined by that religion). Since all men are sinners, all men have to fight their inclinations on a daily basis in order to avoid sin. But because they truly believe in God, and love him, they often find peace and fulfillment in mortifying themselves in order to conform to his will.

    In the area of sex in particular, all kinds of people have to be constantly suppressing their urges and desires in order to be obedient to God, including heterosexuals, and including married people. We’re all in the same boat. Of course certain things may be harder for some than for others, and some people will have more difficult trials than other people have: Some have illness or injury, some have children who die prematurely, some have addictions of one kind or another. But everyone has trials and difficulties. They come with the territory, and people who are ready and willing to submit to God’s will don’t resent them but embrace them, or at least try to. This is what Jesus means by saying that we must take up our cross daily if we want to be his disciples.

    • I’m not saying should or should not. I’m saying why do they?

      After all, most religions say everyone should find fulfillment in them, but that is not the case. Some people do; some people don’t. So the question is: why?

      One hypothesis is that religion provides best practices for living, etc., but this appeals to outcomes that aren’t the same for everyone.

      But if you say, “well, outcomes aren’t important, because what God wants matters more, even if it’s difficult or causes suffering,” then that puts us to a place where we don’t have a hypothesis. We can’t say religion is fulfilling because it alleviates suffering or produces joy, because some people may follow it even if and when it doesn’t. But then, we don’t have any criteria for explaining religiosity from lack thereof, much less why one religion over another.

      I mean, maybe we could just pin it on geography, upbringing, and chance, and that would seem to explain the data better statistically, but would be unsatisfying from a lot of other perspectives.

      • Agellius permalink

        But if you say, “well, outcomes aren’t important, because what God wants matters more, even if it’s difficult or causes suffering,”

        I didn’t say outcomes don’t matter. I was talking about situations where people willingly embrace and endure suffering in order to live in accord with God’s will, with the outcome of peace of mind and spiritual fulfillment despite the suffering, or even because of it.

        “After all, most religions say everyone should find fulfillment in them, but that is not the case. Some people do; some people don’t. So the question is: why?”

        Speaking generally, why some people don’t find fulfillment in religion while others do, I think it has to do primarily with whether or not they believe the religion. The difference between why I find fulfillment in the Catholic religion and you don’t, I would say is due primarily to the fact that I believe in the truth of the Catholic religion and you don’t.

        I think most people are willing to endure suffering if the cause is worthwhile. Millions of people endure the suffering entailed in the hard work that it takes to get a college degree, for the worthwhile benefit of receiving an education and becoming qualified for a career. And such suffering, in a sense, is its own reward, as those who experience it recognize the good that it’s doing them, in terms of instilling discipline, expanding knowledge and understanding, and so forth.

        By the same token, millions of people willingly undertake the suffering that is entailed in abstaining from various things that they enjoy or desire, or even feel that they need, for the sake of a greater good, namely doing God’s will. And many of them find that the suffering is its own reward, as they realize the benefits that it entails, namely discipline of mind and body, better self-control, etc., but most of all, knowing that it pleases God; as Jesus was willing to endure the suffering of the Cross, with no reward other than the knowledge that he was doing his Father’s will.

        People either look upon God in this way, as someone whom to love and obey is its own reward, or they don’t. If you’re asking why some do and some don’t, who can say? The reasons can vary. Sometimes its because people are too caught up in their day-to-day concerns to pay attention to God; sometimes it’s because they’re not willing to give up some of the things that they love; sometimes it’s because of how they were raised, perhaps abusively, or perhaps raised to be skeptical of religion. Sometimes fear keeps people from being religious, as they don’t want to be ridiculed by their non-religious peers. Sometimes the very suffering which is its own reward for some, frightens others away.

        Sometimes it’s the fault of the person himself, due to his own character flaws such as e.g. cowardice or sensuousness, and other times it’s due to circumstances beyond his control.

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