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Faith “Transition” as Euphemism for “Crisis”

August 26, 2015

Over at Wheat & Tares, my coblogger Kristine has written a post discussing her recent discovery that people have been taking her news of her faith “transition” in a way she did not intend. As she has written:

Four years ago I started to question things I’d been taught in the Church because I received an answer to prayer that I believe conflicted with church teachings. I started questioning almost everything, but never the core foundation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the basics of the Restoration. I thought it was more accurate to describe my journey from straight arrow orthodox to open, questioning, and unorthodox as a “faith transition.” I see things differently, but never felt there was any type of “crisis.” My lenses just shifted dramatically. You could say I navigated Givens’ “The Crucible of Doubt” path on my own before I read the book earlier this year.

It has come to my attention in the last 24 hours that not all people define “faith transition” the same way. Apparently there is a connotation that I’ve left the faith, or if I’ve stayed I no longer believe in Mormonism, just general Christianity and I’ve decided to stick around for other reasons. I’m trying to measure the amount of fallout or work that I have to deal with – I’ve been very loud and public about describing my last four years as a “faith transition.” It became apparent yesterday that I am misunderstood when I say that fairly often.

As I thought about the term “faith transition” to think about why Kristine might be misunderstood, I realized that to me, I can definitely see a sense in which ‘transition’ is simply a euphemism for crisis.

Faith Transition as Euphemism

When I say I can see a connotation for faith transition as being a euphemism for crisis, what I mean is that in some instances, the two terms describe the same phenomenon. If this is the case (or is understood to be the case by Kristine’s interlocutors), then her use of the term “transition” will imply the image of “crisis”, with whatever associates to that (leaving the church, disbelieving Mormonism or Christianity.)

But why would “faith transition” be a euphemism for “faith crisis”? I thought of two reasons that I have heard discussed throughout the online Mormon community.

  1. Crisis implies a loss. Faith transition is seen as a more neutral or even positive term. (In this case, even a disaffected Mormon who becomes atheist might use the term “transition” imply that atheism is not a loss but a gain or at least a maintenance of position.)
  2. Like most euphemisms, faith transition softens the blow of events that may be more disturbing. Crisis connotes loss, struggle, and strife that may be true to the experience of many disaffected Mormons, but by keeping these connotations at the forefront of discussion, one risks being too blunt or morbid. (In this sense, even though there may be emotional and personal or interpersonal hardship with a faith crisis, a disaffected Mormon may not want to emphasize those aspects in everyday conversation.)

But then, as I thought about the euphemistic term, and thought of other ways for Kristine to identify, I realized something else: maybe the problem is simply identifying as different in the first place?

The Problem with Prefixed Mormonism

A few weeks ago, I wrote a few posts discussing the new Mormon Spectrum site. In the ensuing discussions, there were several criticisms about the methodology for classifying different resources into Orthodox Mormon, Exploring Mormon, Unorthodox Mormon, and Ex/Post Mormon.

But one thing that came out in the discussion as well was that orthodox Mormons may not even identify with the prefix — and in fact, that if the underlying assumptions about orthodox Mormons was correct (that they are only aware of official church materials — a claim that was also hotly contested) — then in fact, they would be highly unlikely to identify with the prefix.

To summarize, if one claims that orthodox Mormons only are aware of official church materials, then to this hypothetical audience, they would have no need to prefix that they are orthodox. To them, there is only Mormonism and non-Mormonism.

I think this is an issue that runs through the faith crisis and faith transition narratives. There is an element introduced of fundamental difference — the person believes differently, practices differently, whatever. But by introducing this element of difference, one creates the divide that one was trying to avoid.

In contrast to introducing difference, I thought about several times I noticed when Mormons strove to collapse it.

When I was investigating the different blog aggregators (Nothing Wavering vs the Bloggernacle in particular), there were several commenters who bristled at the idea that Nothing Wavering are orthodox Mormons and the Bloggernacle are liberal Mormons. To these bloggernacle commenters, they are just as authentically Mormon (if not moreso) than the Nothing Wavering contingent…the difference between these communities, they argued, was political — Nothing Wavering was politically conservative in a way they didn’t seem was intrinsically tied to the gospel.

So, there was no need to prefix their Mormonism, as that would imply that Nothing Wavering was more “Mormon”.

Kristine mentions Terryl and Fiona Givens’s “Crucible of Doubt” in her post. But to me, I see the Givens (and other Mormons who are compared favorably to them as “pastoral apologists” or whatever…such as Richard Bushman and Adam Miller) as being on the side of collapsing difference.

What I mean is this: even though it seems to me (and to Kristine) that the Givens, et al., represent a “different” kind of Mormonism…these folks do not present themselves as different. When the Givens write about their Mormonism, they don’t preface that this is just their beliefs. They don’t caveat that other Mormons may believe. No, they write as if that is the only Mormonism, the normative Mormonism.

…in fact, that’s what frustrates many disaffected folks about the Givens. They see the Givens or others presenting as mainstream as being deceptive.

But I would go so far as to say that the Givens, et al., maintain their clout precisely because they can present or pass as normal, mainstream Mormons. Their value isn’t in being seen as “different kinds of Mormons can make things work.” Their value is in showing that “mainstream Mormons are thoughtful, learned, creative, informed, etc.,”

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3 Comments
  1. Parker permalink

    It strikes me that “faith transition” is one of those phrases that can mean a number of things depending upon the context, or mean nothing at all. For many people faith transition means they have changed from one faith tradition to another (one denomination to another), without changing their core beliefs at all.

    Within Mormonism you would not expect to hear someone refer to a “faith transition” as a way of expressing that their testimony has become stronger. The common language is to say my testimony is growing or getting stronger. When a Mormon uses the term “faith transition” to describe their perception of the Church most Mormons see it as a sign of questioning or a testimony crisis (“faith crisis,” in general terms). Couple that announcement with questions of the established order and you get what Kristine apparently is experiencing. It doesn’t matter how loudly and vociferously you proclaim an unwavering testimony of the “gospel,” you are considered somewhere on the edge, maybe so far on the edge that you need to be excommunicated.

    It is somehow connected to what “gospel,” means to various groups. In the Protestant world gospel is the good news–“Jesus and Him crucified.” Everything else is auxiliary, and where your worship (the church home) is largely irrelevant as long as that message predominates. In the Mormon world, try as you might, you aren’t going to pry apart gospel and church. The Church and whatever it is currently teaching/practicing is the gospel. The vast majority of active Latter-day Saints understand that, at least intuitively. They understand there is no room to question. Even when they have questions, you set them aside assured they will be answered in the future. Thus, anyone who questions teaching/practice is not mainstream and their testimony is failing. It used to be said that the first sign of apostasy is questioning you leaders. It seems that recent excommunications indicate that concept remains in force.

  2. Nailed it.

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  1. Faith Transition vs Something Else | Wheat and Tares

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