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Sunstone 2017 Aftermath 1: Community & Excommunication

August 11, 2017

It’s been a few weeks since Sunstone 2017 (which was fantastic), and I’ve been meaning to write some posts about things I heard and discussed there. (Every time I go, I meet with several avid readers of my blogs who wonder when the next post will go up. Busted!)

So, here goes nothing. First, I’ll point out that I wrote a post about one of the speakers at the annual “Why We Stay” session: John Gustav-Wrathall presented why he, as an excommunicated, married gay man, still attends. I won’t entirely rehash the post, but what I was thinking is: if you have this man who fearlessly attends church even when excommunicated and shows that it can be done, then what is there to fear from excommunication?

Like a lot of my posts, though, it quickly became evident that I had missed a few basic things in the analysis. On the blog itself and also on Facebook, people shared stories of staying engaged in the church only because they didn’t want their families broken apart…and even John commented that his own excommunication process was not without loss of social relationships — and in fact, he went through the process of losing friends several times! There’s simply no way I can so cavalierly recommend people jeopardize their familial relationships.

This actually led to a discussion in response to a comment from Bruce Nielson about why people might enter a posture of “half-belief” in the church. In a comment that I suspect was really more about putting in a jab at John Dehlin (who only received one glancing mention in the blog post), Bruce said:

If John Dehlin wanted to save marriages and help people in the church ‘stay involved’, why not take his 3000 or so followers (at the time) and teach them the big (NON) secret to saving their marriage — not acting in faith threatening ways towards their spouse in the first place. (Worked for me without the slightest hitch!) A fix so incredibly simple and so incredibly effective (most of the time) that the truly shocking thing is how often people don’t use it. Or rather it may seem shocking until you realize what is really going on. Then it makes perfect sense why former or part believers feel such a strong need to correct the whole church and why simply respecting the faith of their spouse isn’t going to work for many of them and they’d rather choose divorce than go that route. Emphasis on the word ‘choose’ here.

What I pointed out was that things are a little more complicated — firstly, for many folks, simple expression of disbelief is a faith threatening act, so Bruce’s comment really implies that people should not express disbelief at all to their family members.

But…isn’t that the entire issue at stake with a “half-belief” or “New Order Mormon” stance — people find ways of couching disbelief in terms that would avoid the faith threatening blunt expression of disbelief. And isn’t the entire issue that for many, this posture is fearful, anxiety-inducing, and profoundly uncomfortable?

So, people end up deciding for themselves that authenticity is more important, and they unfortunately must deal with the social fallout as the result.

I don’t know if it’s coincidence, but today, Loyd posted on his Project Mayhem about a very similar concept.

…I also had a close group of friends that I could share varying degrees of authenticity with (though I’m not sure if partial authenticity is actually a thing). But even with them, the hat was always in my back pocket, something that was either ready to be equipped (backwards) for emergencies or something that had to be annoyingly explained (or explained away). What people rarely ever saw was /me/.
As you could expect, this lack of authenticity and public disguising has created a lot of tension in my soul. Putting on, taking off, turning around, sitting on, packing, displaying, pocketing, and quickly slipping on the hat has tired my arms, neck, and head…

But what I’ll end with — and something I was ultimately trying to communicate in my original post — is that I think there’s a difference between groups. When I read John Gustav-Wrathall’s posts or hear him at events like Sunstone, or when I listen to folks like Dan Wotherspoon on Mormon Matters, I don’t hear complaints of lacking authenticity or of public disguising. Dan continually emphasizes in particular that his journey has moved him past the “head concerns” that others discuss as requiring public disguising. While it seems natural to want to loop all unorthodox folks in the same boat (whether that boat is to say that they are apostates in disguise or to gasp in exasperation at the mental gymnastics they presumably are engaged in to justify staying), it seems to me that these reductions are too simplistic. Perhaps a true spiritual experience that grounds their testimony is enough to make the difference.

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