The Evangelical Culture of Critique

I listened to this BreakPoint segment and it highlighted a cultural difference between Evangelicals and Mormons to me.

What I heard as the reason that people should sign up for the Centurions program was that philosophical problems creep into various churches and they must be defended against.  A number of critiques of modern day Evangelical churches were used as examples.

Because of the vast diversity in Evangelicalism and Protestantism, Evangelicals are familiar with and expect philosophical and theological excesses to exist among their churches. Various denominations swing the pendulum too far on any number of pet doctrines or practices.  Though it shouldn’t be the case, Evangelicals know this happens and as a counter measure are always critiquing and evaluating the latest fads in the church.

Every church fad is in fact a critique of an older more faded church fad.  The Holiness movement was a reaction to the “only-grace” excesses of Calvinism.  The recent “feminization” of worship is a reaction to cold, hard “Bible-only” Fundamentalism.

All of this makes Evangelicals quite familiar with giving and receiving critique.  In many ways it’s part of our life blood.  The movement wasn’t called “protestant” for nothing.

We, Evangelicals, know we don’t have it all figured out, and we know the culture around is changing, so we find themselves constantly tweaking and experimenting with different forms and practices.  As our Evangelical brother makes some adjustments, we offer our thoughts on what he is doing.  He in turn offers his thoughts on our lack of adjustment. We may not always find agreement, but we don’t get our noses bent out of shape over disagreement. At times, critics can be too aggressive, but generally everyone plays by the rules.

The Mormon church on the other hand is hierarchical and monolithic in its practices and doctrines.  Any and all changes come from the top down and the laymen are discouraged from “righting steadying the ark”.  Little room is made for organizational and cultural critique within Mormonism, so the concept is a bit foreign.

This difference can mean that Mormon and Evangelical interactions can at times resemble something like a Southern gentleman meeting a New Yorker.  The Evangelical is offering what to him is a normal give-and-take of critique and feedback while the Mormon has never heard anyone talk this way, much less about the doctrines and leaders of the LDS church.  The Mormon reaction is “why are you criticizing us” and the Evangelical response is “because that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing”.

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85 thoughts on “The Evangelical Culture of Critique

  1. This is an interesting take, Tim. I’m interested to read what other Evangelicals/Protestants have to say, but I think you’re generally right about Mormons: critique = attack.

  2. I should modify that a bit. I find that Mormons as individuals are as set-in-their-ways or willing-to-change as any other group of people I’ve met. So if you critique a Mormon on how he gardens or drives or sings, he’s going to take it like anyone else would. But question his religious practices and he’ll take it as an attack on his church leaders and/or church as a whole.

  3. It just depends on where your non-negotiables are, and whether you feel they are being threatened.

    A Protestant will “raise energy shields at maximum” just as fast as any Mormon when he thinks something non-negotiable is on the line.

  4. I thought this was a good post and really liked it as I read through it. The second-to-last paragraph kind of touched on this, but I’m going to emphasize it anyways: I think this is more of a doctrinal and polity difference than a cultural one. Revelation in the LDS church comes from the top-down, so that’s where the ark-steadying, critiques and changes come from. Revelation (I’m calling it that for the sake of parity) in evangelical Christianity generally starts and spreads via the pews in a non-hierarchical fashion, so ark-steadying is our MO by necessity.

    A Protestant will “raise energy shields at maximum” just as fast as any Mormon when he thinks something non-negotiable is on the line.

    That’s true Seth, but with Mormonism I feel like I’m much more likely to run into somebody who thinks it’s all non-negotiable.

    Also, all three of you have made the gender-inclusive language bunny cry.

  5. Also Tim, I do agree that the self-criticism mechanisms in Mormonism could stand a bit of improvement.

    (I just recently realized I’ve been growing increasingly unwilling to concede things in this whole dialogue thing. Go figure.)

  6. I think this is more of a doctrinal and polity difference than a cultural one.

    I’m not sure that’s the case, but I’m not prepared to argue either way except to say that cultural forces can be pretty strong at times.

    My related question is this: In theory, at least, it seems to me that the Roman Catholic church is every bit as hierarchical as the LDS church. But I don’t think you’ll run across the “critique = attack” thinking nearly as much there, and there’s certainly give and take. So why the difference pertinent to this discussion between Mormons and Catholics? I’m tempted to think cultural expectations play a huge role, but I’m not sure.

  7. Tim, in the audio Chuck Colson discusses the dangers of bad philosophy (i.e. relativism, naturalism and secular humanism) that runs rampant “in our legislatures, schools, movie theaters and in our churches.”

    The purpose of the Centurions program, as Colson describes borrowing language from CS Lewis, is to foster men and women “who will wield good philosophy to counter bad philosophy of the post-modern era, men and woman who can winsomely present the Christian worldview in their own sphere of influence.”

    I think the Mormon reaction is not that Christians are winsomely presenting the Christian worldview or that Christians are defending good philosophy in “legislatures, schools, movie theaters” or churches. In fact, some LDS and Evangelicals who share a common concern over these issues may even join forced in the political arena.

    Rather the Mormon puzzlement is where certain critics persist in using methods that do not, simply do not “winsomely present the Christian worldview” and do not “wield good philosophy” but use methods that continue to alienate and push Latter-day Saints away and describe the LDS tradition in ways where few LDS recognize would themselves in the description.

    Because Mormons may not engage in critique in the exact same way that Evangelicals does not mean that critique does not happen.

    As to philosophies that creep into the church, many LDS also are concerned about these things. Elder Holland has spoken about improving teaching in the church many times: He wrote, “When crises come in our lives—and they will—the philosophies of men interlaced with a few scriptures and poems just won’t do. Are we really nurturing our youth and our new members in a way that will sustain them when the stresses of life appear?”

    Again, one example of criticism I described in a recent post was that of Hugh Nibley. Truman Madsen said of Nibley: “There have been some things said of Brigham Young University by others, none of them are as painfully critical as what Nibley occasionally says, and the same goes for some aspects of the Church, institutionally speaking, he really is its gadfly critic.”

    However, I think you can recognize the critique of Evangelism by someone from within Evangelicalism like J.P. Moreland and the critique of Evangelism by someone from without like Bill Maher. Each have different motives and I think people recognize that. I’m not sure that the kind of critique Evangelicals make of Mormons is the same kind of critique Evangelicals may make of other Evangelical churches. Otherwise, this would be conceding that Latter-day Saints are indeed fellow brothers and sisters in the umbrella of Christianity that need to fellowshipped by the larger body of Christ. Personally, I don’t see this kind of behavior coming from Evangelical critics of Mormonism. Rather the model used is the critique used by the counter-cult movement of those movements that don’t need simple course correction but need something entirely different.

  8. When one of my evanjellyfish Mormon friends sent a letter to the top LDS leadership trying to softly address the problem of General Conference speakers on the meriting of eternal life and earning of forgiveness, he was sent to his stake president’s office for a harsh rebuke.

    I talked to Robert S. Wood of the Second Quorum of the Seventy once about the God Never Sinned issue. There were a number of Mormons around me, mostly in their late teens or early twenties. When I calmly criticized him for not promoting an official position on the issue, an issue on which there SHOULD be an official position, the young Mormons around us just about had kittens. It was as though I had just stepped away from the Queen of England with my back to her. Wood was caught off guard, clearly expecting a whole lot more subservience and submission on my part to his indifference and apathy on the issue. I calmly but sincerely and almost tearfully plead with him to care more about teaching his followers of the eternal-past holiness of God. Having been caught off guard with the criticism, he immediately started a long-winded irate monologue, leaving no pauses whatsoever for anyone else to interact with him. His religious office apparently made him feel he had instant authority over me, and that those under him had no right to question his positions.

    I walked away realizing that the man probably very rarely encounters direct criticism, especially in the company of others so loyal, and that the Mormons around me had been implicitly taught that such direct reproof of an authority in the church is downright wicked.

    In a fallen world I strongly believe the Christian church is supposed to be in a culture where we learn to handle direct criticism. Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda: The church reformed and always to be reformed. As I quipped with some friends last week, one way of being sure you’re not in a cultish group is that you’re comfortable giving crap to your religious leaders—especially the ones you most love—over things you strongly disagree. While I almost always agree with my own pastor, he actually appreciates a good critique on a point that needs rethinking or polishing.

    When I get books in the mail from people around the country who criticize my theology, I feel so LOVED. That they would take the time to send me a book! That they feel the issue so important. That they care enough to do something about it!

    May God grant us all a healthy view of criticism and conflict-resolution and continual self-reformation, so that we can all engage each other on eternally important issues in emotionally healthy ways.

    Grace and peace in Christ,

    Aaron

  9. You earn trust. Then you’re in a better position to criticize.

    Also, staring down a LDS leader surrounded by wide-eyed impressionable and vulnerable youth, and confronting him is NOT the way to get an open reaction. He’ll feel he has to defend the flock, and you’re all done.

    Pick your venue.

  10. Jack: I have room for the gender-inclusive language bunny on my grill today, whether she be male or he be female.

    Aaron: “…an issue on which there SHOULD be an official position…”

    Says who? You’re free to choose this as your Number One Issue—and that’s expected based on who and what you think God is. But if you asked me your silver bullet™ question I’d answer “I really don’t care.”

  11. I’m not in the least familiar with Robert S. Wood, and I wasn’t there, so I can’t comment on his response. But my guess is that if I as an outsider went up to a high leader in the Southern Baptist Convention or Assemblies of God or whatever, and started telling him/her that his/her church has made a big mistake by fully and clearly taking an official position on an issue — let’s just say it’s as to whether we take our learning with us when we go to heaven, because that’s a significant piece of LDS soteriology yet isn’t something that any other church I know of has taken an official position on — it would be silly of me to expect anything other than to be brushed off, and for those surrounding him/her to sympathize with their leader instead of me.

    Maybe Elder Wood did act like a jerk, or maybe he is one all the time; I don’t know. But even that’s the case, it isn’t fair to use that experience to paint a picture of all LDS leaders. It wouldn’t be hard at all for me to find some pretty arrogant, self-righteous evangelical leaders who aren’t accepting of criticism (I’m met my share during my lifetime, actually). But that doesn’t make evangelicals as a whole like that.

  12. Also Tim, I do agree that the self-criticism mechanisms in Mormonism could stand a bit of improvement.

    To be clear, I wasn’t asking Mormons to become more self-critical. Just stating that they aren’t very self-critical and are unfamiliar with critique which presents a cultural barrier between Evangelicals.

    Aquinas,
    Both examples you use to show that critique exist within the LDS church are prominent leaders. I’m well aware that General Conference talks often speak of the need for the church to improve, but this is a perfect example of Mormon hierarchy.

    Though Nibley was not a General Authority, he clearly earned an apologetic stature within Mormonism that made him difficult to rebuke. As I recall, the point of the article on your blog was how unique Nibley was within Mormonism. I’m sure someone like Mitt Romney, being another prominent leader, could also get away with more than the average member.

    I agree that Evangelicals are often not as winsome or attractive as they need to be when speaking to Mormons and others they are critical of. I have spoken out against many of their methods. I’ve also received the message loud and clear that you don’t think I have hit that mark, and I consider myself a work in progress.

    Aquinas said:
    I’m not sure that the kind of critique Evangelicals make of Mormons is the same kind of critique Evangelicals may make of other Evangelical churches. Otherwise, this would be conceding that Latter-day Saints are indeed fellow brothers and sisters in the umbrella of Christianity that need to fellowshipped by the larger body of Christ. Personally, I don’t see this kind of behavior coming from Evangelical critics of Mormonism. Rather the model used is the critique used by the counter-cult movement of those movements that don’t need simple course correction but need something entirely different.

    I think Mormonism presents a difficult dilemma for Evangelicals. If we consider Mormons under the umbrella of Christianity, the New Testament calls for a stern rebuke and a casting out of the sort of heresies and false prophets Mormonism presents. The last thing Paul and Peter seem to be calling for in dealing with wolves is a winsome attitude. Many of the reactions of Evangelicals toward Mormons may well be within the Biblical example.

    If Mormonism is outside the bounds of Christianity, then our response indeed needs to resemble our interaction with any other person who is missing the truth.

  13. You earn trust. Then you’re in a better position to criticize.

    Also, staring down a LDS leader surrounded by wide-eyed impressionable and vulnerable youth, and confronting him is NOT the way to get an open reaction. He’ll feel he has to defend the flock, and you’re all done.

    Lame.

    “Trust first, then criticism” works for intimate relationships, like within families, or, I don’t know, gangs or something. But in a Church of (allegedly) 11 million or more? Bullshit. We’re talking about a huge, public organization that actively tries to promote its own agenda through powerful PR marketing and a huge missionary force. It is subject to criticism from everyone who wants to bother to take the time to criticize, period. That’s the trade-off for being large, public, active, and aggressive.

    Calling out a Seventy regarding Church and theology in front of a bunch of young Mormons is not anything at all like, say, calling out a father in front of his wife and kids. As a Seventy, Elder Wood is a public figure who represents the Church and whose job description is to evangelize. That means he is subject to public criticism, and if he’s going to reprezsent the Church to the world, he’s gonna have to get better at handling and responding to it.

  14. Kullervo: I don’t see why you brush aside the importance of trust so readily. If Seth is arguing that you can’t give criticism until you earn trust then I think he’s wrong, but I read him as arguing that your criticism will fall on deaf ears until you earn trust.

    It all depends on what you want out of your critical efforts. If you want people to actually listen to you, consider what you have to say, and perhaps make some changes, then you have to gain that person’s trust. If, on the other hand, you don’t really care what they do with your advice—i.e., you enjoy bloviating for your own sake—then dive right in.

    Anyone is free to criticize anyone else as far as I’m concerned—regardless of the size or nature of the institution—but some critics take a more effective approach.

    Tim: I think the difference between Nibley and Romney is that Nibley was seen as a “defender of the faith,” whereas Romney is just a public figure who is a faithful Mormon. Thus, I doubt that Romney could get away with some Nibley-esque critique.

  15. Tim, I appreciate the response. Basically, this is what I hear you saying in your post: “Mormons have no experience with critique or criticism, but us Evangelicals do it all the time, we do it to each other all the time and we are used to it. So, it’s just what we do, it’s our nature. On the other hand, criticism is something completely alien and foreign to Mormons, they never criticize each other or their leaders so this is something completely brand new to them and they have never heard anyone talk this way. So, it isn’t that our criticism is poorly handled, it’s just that Mormons aren’t used to it.”

    You write that Mormons “aren’t very self-critical and are unfamiliar with critique which presents a cultural barrier between Evangelicals.”

    I just don’t buy this argument at all. It is entirely unpersuasive. For starters, you collapse the distinction between self-critique and critique of “the religious other.” If you are arguing that Evangelicals critique other Evangelicals, this is self-critique. When Evangelicals critique Latter-day Saints, generally speaking, this simply is not the same kind of critique as when J.P. Moreland criticizes bibilolatry among Evangelical churches.

    Now, I would consider J.P. Moreland to be a leader in his area of influence. People are less likely to question his motives in what he wrote because of what he has said in defending the faith in the past. Sure, any Evangelical is free to make the same kind of criticism that J.P. Moreland makes, but it would simply not have the same kind of influence as when he makes it. Why? Partly, because people gain credibility and trust for their behavior in the past, he has demonstrated his commitment to his faith tradition. This same dynamic holds true for Hugh Nibley. So, for my part, I would appreciate a post where you recognize the distinction. Evangelicals, generally speaking, have no commitment to the Mormon faith community, and success is often defined, and in some cases only defined, where an individual leaves that community. So, arguing that Evangelical criticisms of Latter-day Saints is nothing more than what Evangelicals say to each other is simply incorrect and in my view unpersuasive.

  16. Aquinas said:
    Basically, this is what I hear you saying . . . So, it isn’t that our criticism is poorly handled, it’s just that Mormons aren’t used to it.”

    No, not in the slightest. I think the New Yorker and the Southern gentleman is an apt analogy. The New Yorker has no idea he’s being brash and direct. It’s just what he’s used to. That doesn’t mean the New Yorker isn’t being brash, it just means the Southern is taking the New Yorker to be more abrasive than the New Yorker intended to be.

    Sure, any Evangelical is free to make the same kind of criticism that J.P. Moreland makes, but it would simply not have the same kind of influence as when he makes it.

    Agreed that JP Moreland has more influence as a leader. As Elder Holland will have more influence in his critiques than Seth or Brian. But there are plenty of examples of Evangelical leaders criticizing outside their own tribe. John Piper has said plenty against the prosperity gospel and most recently against the ECLA. He levels very few of his critical words against the New Calvinist. I’m not just talking about the general “hey all of us Evangelicals can do a better job” kind of critique. I’m referring to the different faction in-fighting among Evangelicals. Sit in on any debate about pre-destination and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

    I just don’t buy this argument at all. It is entirely unpersuasive. For starters, you collapse the distinction between self-critique and critique of “the religious other.”

    I’m sorry I was unable to persuade you. I’m not at all saying that self-critique and “other-critique” are the same thing. I’m saying the culture of self-critique causes Evangelicals to view critique in general differently than Mormons.

    Most Evangelical critique is in fact “other-critique” as Evangelicals offer up their thoughts on the failings of other Evangelical movements, not their own. Evangelical critique of Mormonism is most certainly on a different level than discussions on gifts of the spirit or the use of video sermons. Its consequences are much greater and thus Evangelicals are much more passionate about it. What Evangelicals don’t understand is that the discussion is on a much more antagonistic plane than they even anticipated.

    Every Evangelical knows that there is another Evangelical somewhere in the world that has a complaint about how she is doing things. She has often encountered those complaints and interacted with them. These previous interactions make the Evangelical more prepared and less threatened by outside critique. They also make her less aware of how a Mormon might accept these sorts of interactions.

    Am I really being unreasonable?

  17. Brian said:
    I doubt that Romney could get away with some Nibley-esque critique.

    Don’t you think that Romney could get away with more than you could though? I have a hard time seeing the Mormon Church excommunicating Romney. I have a hard time seeing them excommunicate Harry Reid even if he came out and said the church was flat wrong on Prop 8. If someone in your ward kept at it though, can you tell me they’re wouldn’t be any local discipline?

    I could easily get away with the same sort of critique JP Moreland offered. It just wouldn’t be as well known or highly regarded. But the consequences for both of us would be the same.

  18. “Don’t you think that Romney could get away with more than you could though?”

    In short: no.

    (Obviously he could get away with “more” in the sense that anything he did would be more widely known….)

  19. Tim said:

    I’m sure someone like Mitt Romney, being another prominent leader, could also get away with more than the average member.

    Before I asked what he meant by “get away with,” Tim said this in what might have answered my question:

    I have a hard time seeing them excommunicate Harry Reid even if he came out and said the church was flat wrong on Prop 8. If someone in your ward kept at it though, can you tell me they’re wouldn’t be any local discipline?

    Well, that depends by what you mean “kept at it.”

    If I were quoted in the paper as saying what Harry Reid was quoted as saying (which was very close to saying the church was flat-out wrong), there’s be no local discipline, at least where I live. There’s no reason why there should be; after all, he said he agrees with the church doctrine, that marriage should be between a man and a woman. So, yes, that’s exactly what I’d tell you.

    Now if I were calling church leaders bigots, or if I were to bring up my differences in gospel doctrine class, in priesthood meetings, in talks I give, etc., to the point where any reasonable observer would reasonably believe my goal was to undermine church leadership, sure, the situation would be different.

    Tim, I’m in basic agreement with you that there are differences between the way evangelicalism handles differences of various kinds and the way the LDS church does as an institution. It would be silly to dispute that the Church is organized as a hierarchy. I just don’t think differences are handled in the Church in a draconian manner as often as you suggest is the case.

    Or maybe I’m misreading what you mean by “get away with.”

  20. To honor my own post I should have left out my “get away with” comments. I honestly don’t know as well as you do what you can “get away with” in terms of being critical of church leadership. I can only observe that there doesn’t seem to be much place for it and that Mormons are not prone to be critical of their leadership whether the issue is major or benign.

  21. But why aren’t Mormons prone to criticize their leaders? Is it:

    a) we really want to but are afraid of the consequences,

    or

    b) some other reason.

    I suspect, Tim, that you mostly think it’s (a).

  22. actually it’s (b)

    I think Jack highlighted that it’s a doctrinal call not to “steady the ark”. You’re told not to do, so you don’t.

    It’s also a much more prevalent idea that the LDS leaders are being directly informed by God (and may perhaps be meeting Jesus face to face). Evangelicals have an understanding that we all have an equal priesthood and are all just trying to make the best sense of things as we can. So we’re more likely to “help” one another along.

    Why don’t you tell me why you don’t “steady the ark”. What will happen? What do your leaders say will happen if you “steady the ark”?

  23. Tim, I wouldn’t say you are being unreasonable, just unpersuasive. I think there is great value in identifying barriers to communication between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals (so that we can perhaps get past them), and to the extent that you are trying to identify these barriers, I think that is a worthwhile endeavor. Up until now others have proposed some barriers to communication include lack of knowledge, confusing boundary maintenance with evangelism, employment of different theological terminologies, or Hazen’s “disparity of concern” hypothesis based on soteriological differences.

    Here, you just haven’t persuaded me that a “culture of critique” is the culprit here and from my perspective it has the potential to take people’s attention away from their obligation to present their message in a way that their audience can understand and appreciate, and I want people to be focused on the way and manner they present their message.

    I’m not arguing that Evangelical leaders don’t criticize outside of their own “tribe” as you say, but the point here is that there are no Mormon “tribes” analogous to Evangelical “tribes” and also that your examples are of Evangelical leaders who are the ones doing the criticism (i.e. John Piper as you say). The reason you don’t find the same situation inside the LDS Church is because by definition you do not have competing leadership centers within the same institutional church. Wouldn’t you agree this is the more reasonable answer? So you seem to be looking for criticism that would come from competing leadership centers inside the LDS Church, and then when you don’t find it (surprise), you conclude that this means Mormons must be unfamiliar with criticism by those from the outside. How does this follow? You are comparing the criticism by Evangelical leaders against other Evangelical leaders, with criticism by LDS membership leveled against LDS leaders in the LDS Church. Thus, because you draw conclusions based on the non-analogous comparisons, you conclusion will be analytical weak and lack persuasive force. If your goal is to argue there is such a thing as an Evangelical culture of criticism, the better approach would be to marshal evidence of lay Evangelicals who openly and regularly criticize the leadership to the local church to which they are accountable. If you can show me that Evangelicals that regularly do this perhaps then I would be more open to being persuaded that there is such a thing as a “culture of critique” among Evangelicals.

    But even here the comparison is strained because local leadership roles in the LDS Church are carried out by the lay membership. So, one of the problems I see in these discussions of this type is that one sets up a illusory dividing line between the leaders and the membership in the LDS Church when in actuality the membership are the leaders, because of a lay clergy. It is only at the highest level that members are called to a certain calling for life.

    Now, as I think is clear by now, the interaction between the various Evangelical “tribes” as you’ve described it, has no analogous counterpart within Mormondom because as Blomberg pointed out “Evangelicals do not congregate in a single institutional church” and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not best described as a movement of various “tribes” of religious groups that are primarily bound together through a set of theological beliefs. There is an actual institutional church and a lay clergy with a unified liturgy. To my knowledge there isn’t a Latter-day Saint counterpart to something like the Evangelical Theological Society, for example, that makes membership contingent on affirming a doctrinal statement and has a great deal of influence on what passes for acceptable Evangelical theology. On the other hand, the Evangelical movement has nothing analogous to the LDS First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. I think we can concede that institutionally, the LDS Church is closer to the Catholic church than the Evangelical tradition. But what does any of this have to do with a “culture of criticism” that is a barrier to communication between LDS and Evangelicals? I’m not saying you don’t have a point, but whatever it is, it hasn’t been made yet.

  24. Tim: “it’s a doctrinal call not to “steady the ark”. You’re told not to do, so you don’t. “ That is really the same as what I said: “we really want to but are afraid of the consequences.” After all, the main reason for not steadying the ark—at least according to the prevailing reading—is that Uzzah got killed for it. So now I’m more convinced that you believe (a).

    “It’s also a much more prevalent idea that the LDS leaders are being directly informed by God….” That gets at a different reason why Mormons would be less critical of their leaders: we trust them. Why criticize them if they’re going to turn out to be right all along?

    There’s also a very strong rebuke against murmuring in the BoM. Sometimes criticism sounds a lot like murmuring, so Mormons might be a bit gun-shy.

    As for rebuking my fellow Mormon’s religious practice, as you suggest is so common and welcome in Evangelical circles, I say “let people worship who and how they may.” I don’t have any desire to be the judge of my neighbor, and you make Evangelism seem very judgmental.

    “Why don’t you tell me why you don’t “steady the ark”. What will happen?”

    The main reason for me—which I’m sure I share with many Mormons—is that I value unity very highly. If a leader chooses a B+ option over an A, I’ll probably go along simply because dissent and criticism can lead to delay and contention that ultimately result in something much worse than a B+. I won’t go along with something if I think it’s really bad or if God tells me (personally) not to.

    On a similar note, I also recognize that leaders already feel a lot of pressure in their position (having been there myself). Worrying about fielding and responding to criticism like some stressed school board member would only be a distraction. Call this the “backseat driver rule” as opposed to the “steady the ark rule.” For the most part, I keep my mouth shut in the backseat because the last thing a mediocre driver needs is another distraction. If I’m with a truly reckless driver then I’ll voice dissent, and sometimes even the best drivers won’t see a potential danger in their blind spot….

  25. The main reason for me—which I’m sure I share with many Mormons—is that I value unity very highly.

    This is why people are supposed to stay Roman Catholic, not be faithful Mormons.

    I’ll probably go along simply because dissent and criticism can lead to delay and contention that ultimately result in something much worse than a B+.

    Since when? Don’t we live in a culture that values dissent and criticism as essential for liberty and good governance?

    Worrying about fielding and responding to criticism like some stressed school board member would only be a distraction.

    Part of any good leader’s job is to consider, respond to, and sometimes accept criticism.

  26. I think we can concede that institutionally, the LDS Church is closer to the Catholic church than the Evangelical tradition.

    Fine, then let’s compare internal criticism and dissent in the Roman Catholic Church to the LDS Church.

  27. Aquinas,

    I see how we became distracted from the point. The point isn’t whether or not Mormon or Evangelical leaders offer critique of one another. The point isn’t whether or not Evangelicals or Mormons offer critiques of their leadership.

    The point is that Evangelicals, of all stripes, are more likely to give and receive critique in religious discussions than Mormons. This is caused by the fact that every expression of Protestantism is a counter-expression to some other Protestant sect. Every Protestant church has in its history some sort of disagreement with some other church (starting with the Catholic church). As a result, Evangelicals are more familiar with religious critique because they interact with other Evangelicals who disagree with them for one reason or another. It’s not so much self-critique as “other-critique” that we experience from the other “tribes” of Evangelicalism.

    As I stated, Mormons don’t experience this because the LDS church is hierarchical and monolithic. There is no expectation for it (as opposed to Protestantism which is fractured and diverse) Perhaps if the various sects of Mormonism were larger or more accepted under the same umbrella, Mormons would encounter this sort of interaction more often. But they don’t.

    Thus the barrier to communication. Please note that I didn’t say it was THE cause for miscommunication, just a cause. It should be added to that list of items you cited.

    Does this better explain my position?

    Brian said:
    you make Evangelism seem very judgmental.

    Sadly I can’t refute that. We’ve made big issues out of little things and Joseph Smith was wise to capitalize on this weakness.

  28. “Since when? Don’t we live in a culture that values dissent and criticism as essential for liberty and good governance?”

    Yes Kullervo, but I think we seriously overdo it here.

  29. Tim, thanks for clarifying your position. You suggest a barrier of communication between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. What is the barrier? The barrier you suggest, as far as I can gather, is a lack of expectation, experience, interaction, familiarity with “religious critique.” For your argument to follow you have to 1) making a convincing argument that this situation exists and 2) making a convincing argument that this is a barrier to communication or a cause for miscommunication between LDS and Evangelicals.

    As to your first point you argue that Protestantism is a counter-expression to some other protestant sect and it has a disagreement with some other church. How is this not applicable to the Mormon experience? Historically, how is Mormonism not also a counter-expression to the religious expression of its day? How do you account for the fact that there has been criticism and resistance to the LDS Church since it’s inception? From Alexander Campbell to Walter Martin, what is it about this resistance that you don’t think make Mormons familiar with “religious critique”? Why doesn’t this experience sufficiently familiarize Mormons with “religious critique”?

    In fact, you seem to discount this experience when you argue “Mormons don’t experience this [“religious critique”] because the LDS church is hierarchical and monolithic.” Here, it sounds to me like you are saying that it isn’t enough that the LDS Church experience criticism from outside the faith, they must experience criticism from within the faith, in order to become more familiar with and expect criticism that comes from Evangelicals outside the faith. This doesn’t make sense to me. Why is the alleged lack of criticism within the LDS faith a barrier to communication with Evangelicals outside the faith, when there is an abundance of experience with criticism from Evangelicals already?

  30. In practice, the middle ground is something we shoot for – but in reality – impossible.

    So, since it’s too hard to get exactly in the center, rigid authoritarianism it is then! Makes perfect sense.

  31. I am sure it is just the language snob in me, but I get the feeling that the meaning of the word “critique” as it is being used here is different from what it really is… But then again, maybe I am totally wrong. To critique something is to give critical review, which is to examine the positive and negative before giving an overall judgment. However, the usage here seems to be focusing on only the negative, which is something altogether different.

    I think that Mormonism supports the idea of look at something closely and making a judgment call. To me, that is what critiquing is really all about. Now, I realise that there are places within the LDS community where critiquing is frowned upon, but I find that those places are very geographically limited.

    Which leads me to a nit-picky complaint about something Tim said: “Little room is made for organizational and cultural critique within Mormonism.” I would have to say that there is a LOT of cultural critique within Mormonism. This is why some members love living in Utadaho and others loathe the idea.

    When it comes to being negative about everything that’s wrong with the organisation, yeah, I think that Mormons shy away from this. It isn’t because Mormons are afraid of ecclesiastical punishment. It is because they know that the members of the Church, including the leadership, are imperfect, but the doctrines are good and true. And it is generally accepted that it is a bad idea to tell God that He’s doing things all wrong.

  32. Kullervo,

    I see the current LDS Church as, in many ways, a refreshing alternative to the self-centered, spoiled, self-indulgent, hand-holding, therapy-obsessed, group rejecting, isolationist, flip-the-world-the-bird excesses of modern American society.

  33. Aquinas,

    I really do apologize for being unable to communicate my thoughts to you effectively. I’m doing my best, so please be patient with me as I try to regroup and present my ideas to you in a coherent manner.

    Did my analogy of a New Yorker and a Southern gentleman make any sense to you in the context of this discussion? A simple yes or no will suffice.

    Also I really don’t know what your experience among Evangelicals is like. Could you tell me if you’ve ever sat in on a debate among Evangelicals about something contentious like predestination, once-saved-always-saved, women in leadership or baptism by the Holy Spirit? Knowing your experience will help me illustrate my point to you.

    Please note that I’m not in any way suggesting Mormons need to change their approach or do something differently to enter into communication with Evangelicals.

  34. Tim, I was hoping perhaps you could offer some answers to my questions but I’m more than happy to step back and try again. No, the analogy of the New Yorker and Southern gentleman does not make sense in the context of the discussion. Yes, I understand you are trying to suggest that Mormons and Evangelicals have different rules as to what is considered appropriate communication, but it only works, if at all, at the most general level. When we get into the details of our interactions, I don’t find the analogy useful.

    Now, the topics you are suggesting “predestination, once-saved-always-saved, women in leadership or baptism by the Holy Spirit” may be “contentious” but at this point Evangelicals aren’t accusing each other of believing in a different Jesus as many accuse LDS of doing. Don’t you see the difference? Evangelicals may disagree over whether infralapsarianism or supralapsarianism is the right position, but in my experience few argue this is a matter of salvation. And just as a follow up question: what venues do these debates take place? Do they take place during the Lord’s supper or during devotional studies? My guess is typically they do not. Again, I just feel like your comparisons are not on point.

    I’ve seen LDS discuss these very topics but in a different context. I’ve seen LDS point out that Evangelicals disagree on any number of points of doctrine but that Evangelicals still accept each other as Christian. And if Evangelicals can disagree with each other on many points of doctrine but still accept each other as Christian, why can’t Evangelicals also accept Mormons as Christian even though we differ on many points of doctrine as well. I personally don’t use this approach, and I’m only using this as an example. My point is that if an LDS takes this approach they will most likely be told by Evangelicals that the difference is that Evangelicals agree on the core doctrines (i.e. what matters for salvation) and typically a discussion of core doctrines comes about. I can’t imagine I’m the only one familiar with this very common pattern of discussion.

  35. Kullervo: “This is why people are supposed to stay Roman Catholic, not be faithful Mormons.”

    Sometimes you get so caught up in your effort to despise Mormonism that you fail to read what people actually write. Tim asked me why I didn’t (routinely) criticize my leaders, not why I remained a faithful Mormon. Two different things, Kullervo.

    “Since when? Don’t we live in a culture that values dissent and criticism as essential for liberty and good governance?”

    No. Well, maybe you do. I live in a culture that values valuable dissent and criticism. Throwing a fit because things aren’t just the way I like it isn’t worth it. And uh, “good governance”? A B+ is good.

    “Part of any good leader’s job is to consider, respond to, and sometimes accept criticism.”

    Yawn. (Maybe this would be more convincing on a poster—with an eagle or a sailboat or something.)

  36. Tim — As I’ve said, I agree with your premise to a point. Obviously, there are differences in ways in which issues are dealt with in a hierarchy as opposed to the way they’re dealt with in something that might better be called a movement or a theological world view.

    So if we’re going to talk about how Mormonism deals with opposing ideas, perhaps it would be better to make a comparison between Mormonism and Catholicism — or perhaps within an LDS ward and an individual evangelical church of about the same size.

    There are obviously differences in governance between Mormons and Protestants. If as a Mormon I became convinced that the Church were in major theological error, my basic choices (and I’m oversimplifying a bit) are to keep quiet or leave the church. But if I were a USA Presbyterian (which I mention because I’m familiar with its governing structure) I would have the option using a democratic system to get my local governing board (called a session) to take a resolution to the presbytery, which eventually could get a motion before a national convention if there were support for it. For example, in the Presbyterian Church (USA), there have been efforts to overturn a standard that sets a chastity requirement for pastors and session members. So there is a system for dealing with that issue (which is not to say it has been resolved).

    Similar systems exist among many evangelical churches. So, yes, there is a structure that allows debate. So yes, there’s a difference in that regard.

    But, I’m not sure how far this difference extends to individual church members on a local level. A case in point:

    Could you tell me if you’ve ever sat in on a debate among Evangelicals about something contentious like predestination, once-saved-always-saved, women in leadership or baptism by the Holy Spirit?

    Not a formal debate, but I have been in and/or observed numerous evangelical discussions on such issues. But I have also been in discussions in a gospel doctrine class where various issues have been discussed. I recall several discussions on grace vs. works, to what extent our rejection of the church can limit the choices we’re capable of making the afterlife, what it means to become a god, whether it’s OK to drink caffeinated pop, among others.

    It’s true that I don’t see Mormons arguing, for example, over whether the Book of Mormon is a true document. But I don’t think there are many evangelical churches I could go to and hear arguments over whether Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, for example, or whether the Book of Momon was inspired. Mormons tend not to debate essentials, but at a local level I haven’t seen evangelicals debate the essentials either.

    And it’s true that we Mormons give great deference to our international church leaders, and even to our local ones when it comes to how the church is run. But I have also known various megachurch members (I’m not saying all) who have a hero-worship attitude toward their pastor — and would have been more likely to believe whatever he says than members of my ward would believe whatever our bishop says (because they’ve known their bishop as just an ordinary guy).

    Gotta leave ….

  37. Eric said:
    “As I’ve said, I agree with your premise to a point.

    That made me chuckle because I only agree with my premise to a point as well. I’m a bit frustrated that I’m being cajoled into defending this idea as if it’s the chief reason Evangelicals and Mormons experience difficulty in conversation. It’s but a mere observation that might help Mormons understand Evangelical culture better.

    I AGREE that Evangelicals thinking that Mormons offer a false prophet, a false gospel, a false Jesus and a false God is a much much bigger barrier. Of course that’s a bigger deal. That doesn’t mean I’m not on to something with this smaller point.

    Regarding: predestination, once-saved-always-saved, women in leadership and baptism by the Holy Spirit

    Aquinas said: And just as a follow up question: what venues do these debates take place? Do they take place during the Lord’s supper or during devotional studies? My guess is typically they do not.

    I specifically mentioned those four items because I have seen and experienced serious debate about them in weekly bible studies, Sunday School classes and in personal peer-level interactions with other Evangelicals (like, “hey we work together, let’s go to lunch”). A number of Evangelicals love “meat” and love to hash it out with one another. These debates aren’t left for seminary classrooms or special Advanced Doctrine seminars. They are just the kind of things that Evangelicals who are prone to religious discussion get into. I can’t tell you how many dorm room debates my college years were filled with about these sorts of things. I continue to see them between staff members at summer camps and attendees at various Evangelical conferences. It’s just the sort of thing Evangelicals do when they get together (by all means don’t take me to mean it’s the only thing we do or that it even dominates our conversations). The Evangelicals that Mormons interact with are likely to be the same Evangelicals who like to “gun-sling” with other Evangelicals and are used to debate.

    Brian earlier suggested that I was making Evangelicals look like they are judgmental, and sadly, that was my very point. A number of Evangelicals are very judgmental, it seems to be built into our culture (whether it’s healthy or not is a different discussion). If you don’t believe me, go check out some of the reviews of “The Shack” or of “Wild at Heart”. Mormons who think we’re poking them in the nose need to know that we poke each other in the nose all the time. We don’t know how hard we’re hitting because we’re used to taking a punch or two.

    In saying that the LDS church is monolithic I’m pointing out that the opportunity for Mormons to get into these type of discussions just doesn’t exist quite as much. The only issue I’ve really seen come even close is the debate about the Hemispheric Model for the Book of Mormon and the Limited Geography Theory (and the particulars of that debate really aren’t well known). There just aren’t that many things for Mormons to fight about. Perhaps defending “McConkie-ism” would be another. But as a rule Mormons don’t create factions among themselves.

    YES, Mormons have experienced Evangelical style criticism. But they can walk away from it. That’s like a Southerner saying “of course I know what New Yorkers are like. I visited there and I see them on TV all the time.” Having a few interactions with them is nothing like living there.

    Aquinas said:
    Tim, I was hoping perhaps you could offer some answers to my questions but I’m more than happy to step back and try again

    I quite intentionally was not answering your questions because your questions were distracting from my ability to describe a particular feature of Evangelical culture to you. If you don’t think I’m describing my own culture accurately or if I’ve got Evangelicals all wrong, please let me know. If you’d like me to answer a particular question outside the scope of this conversation I’d be happy to.

  38. Tim, I’m not questioning your description of Evangelical culture. I’m questioning your claim that this constitutes a barrier to communication between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. I understand your position to be that Evangelicals debate each other all the time, and Latter-day Saints do not, therefore this asymmetry constitutes a barrier to communication between Evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. Is this your position?

  39. Tim — Well, I grew up in the evangelical subculture of its time (which has changed, but wrt this issue is probably about the same), and I remember many discussion of that type.

    So when I’ve had similar discussions in LDS circles, maybe it’s because I’m still acting according to that part of evangelical culture. 🙂

    In my opinion, we LDS probably have as many issues we could disagree on, if not more. And discussions do sometimes come up in gospel doctrine class, priesthood group and (I assume) Relief Society. And, of course, there’s the bloggernacle, which many of us enjoy partly because of the discussion of issues that aren’t necessarily discussed all that much at church.

    So I’d disagree with you to the extent that I do think there are discussions on various issues. But I’d agree with you that we don’t really form factions. Although the bloggernacle may loosely be divided into conservative and liberal factions, that may be the extent of it. Perhaps partly because of that, our disagreements may not be as sharp as among evangelicals. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist nor that we’re unaware of them.

    There also may be a feeling among LDS that if something hasn’t been clearly revealed to us it probably doesn’t matter — we’ve been told what we need for our salvation, and our attention is probably best spent heeding what we do know rather than speculating about what we don’t. That’s a sentiment I’ve heard expressed far more often among Mormons than among evangelicals.

  40. Sometimes you get so caught up in your effort to despise Mormonism that you fail to read what people actually write. Tim asked me why I didn’t (routinely) criticize my leaders, not why I remained a faithful Mormon. Two different things, Kullervo.

    And sometimes I think everyone is so certain that I’m just a crackpot cranky anti-Mormon that they don’t really try to listen to what I am saying.

    Check out Gary Wills’s book Why I Am A Catholic sometime. Part one is an honest no-bullshit admission of everything wrong with the Roman Catholic church, historical and modern. Part two is an explanation why, despite all of the preceding stuff, Gary Wills remains a loyal Catholic: mostly, it bouls down to the importance of unity in the faith.

    Gary Wills is a relentless internal critic of the Roman Catholic Church. But the point is, that does not have to be mutually exclusive with unity in the faith! Real unity does not demand cultlike conformity: while Wills openly criticizes his Church, he nevertheless submits to the authority of Rome and takes communion and goes to confession like he is supposed to. And the Church is fine with that.

    But part of “being a faithful Mormon” means not criticizing your leaders or the Church. At all. But there is absolutely no reason it has to be like that. That’s just power and paranoia.

  41. Pingback: Article VI Blog » Blog Archive » Iowa, Issues, Identity; Problems in the GOP, and . . . “The Mormon Ethic of Civility”

  42. Kullervo: “And sometimes I think everyone is so certain that I’m just a crackpot cranky anti-Mormon that they don’t really try to listen to what I am saying.”

    It’s ludicrous for you to imply that I didn’t read what you wrote after you clearly didn’t read me! I responded to Tim’s question about routine criticism and you read into it all this crap about remaining a faithful Mormon. My point in calling you a “crackpot cranky anti-Mormon” was to give you a taste of your own pissy, dismissive medicine. I know that you’re not one-dimensional like that, but you sometimes seem to forget that neither are the rest of us.

    “Real unity does not demand cultlike conformity….”

    Blah blah blah. Did you hear about the latest Coen brother’s movie? Do you like peanuts? What other off-topic discussions do you want to have in response to my answer to Tim?

    “But part of “being a faithful Mormon” means not criticizing your leaders or the Church. At all. But there is absolutely no reason it has to be like that. That’s just power and paranoia.”

    Must be your own paranoia you’re talking about, ’cause I sure don’t feel that way. I’m not going to try to change your definition of “being a faithful Mormon,” but I’m not going to adopt it as my own.

  43. Let me express my own personal response to hearing an Evangelical criticize an aspect of my own (LDS) Church.

    First, I am well aware of the disagreement among Evangelicals on many doctrinal questions, from the need for baptism, to the nature of the Trinity, to the possibility for post-mortal salvation, etc. Anyone who reads “Christianity Today” or books like “Pagan Christianity” can see this disagreement among and between Evangelical churches and their members.

    Second, I tend to be skeptical of whether the Evangelical really knows anything about my church or its beliefs. Far and away what I see most is a “Shoot mouth first, ask questions never” attitude. When the critique itself reveals such ignorance, I automatically discount it. When you haven’t taken the time to get a correct understanding of my church, you haven’t earned the right to any of my time to listen to your opinions.

    Third, I respond in a much more positive way to someone who couches their critique in the form of a question, e.g. “I don’t understand why Mormons believe in the Book of Mormon because, from my point of view, God quit providing new scripture in the First Century”, as distinct from a categorical condemnation “You are (stupid, evil, credulous) to accept the Book of mormon as scripture.” The difference is that one approach invites a response, the other does not.

    Fourth, let me point our something else: Mormons in general do not invest a lot of time and energy in critiquing OTHER people’s churches, either. Most of the time we discuss them and their beliefs is because one of their members has attacked our church for being different from theirs. We do not sit around in Sunday School, or Seminary or Institute, or over the pulpit in Sunday meetings or General Conference, attacking the beliefs of other churches, except when they have already attacked us on the particular issue, so that any defense of our own position necessitates explaining why we differ.

    This is important for Evangelicals to understand. Just as Evangelicals are accustomed to criticizing their own churches and other Evangelical churches, Mormons are NOT accustomed to criticizing either their own church or anyone else’s church. We do not have instructional videos that point out all the errors in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or any Protestant denomination. When Luther is mentioned in our church meetings, it is most often with respect for his creating, in the end, greater religious pluralism and therefore religious freedom where a church like ours could be restored to the earth and allowed to worship freely. When the Pope is mentioned, it is usually in connection with quoting and praising his stand on a matter of moral principle, or reviewing a recent collaboration with Catholic Charities in giving disaster relief. Mormons don’t see offering a critique of any church, theirs or yours, as a matter of “good clean fun”. It is serious business, and is done only with restraint and qualifications. And it is rare. And Mormons are sorry that Evangelicals are disinclined to return the favor.

    If you tell me that it is “just their nature”, then I am reminded of the story about the scorpion who asks for a ride across a river from a fox. It may be second nature to you, but what does that have to do with the character of a disciple of Christ?

  44. Tim,
    I really liked what the “Pugnacious Irishman” had to say. I can’t speak for the LDS, but in the traditional RLDS church that I experienced growing up, I can’t imagine anyone critiquing a sermon like that. Then again, maybe someone did and I just never heard about it. On the other hand, he was just being critical of one small aspect of the sermon, albeit one that would be very important to an Evangelical that is trying to live the gospel seriously. He wasn’t saying that the Pastor was a heretic or that no one should attend RockHarbor anymore. I agree with the Article VI blog comment that appeared immediately before, often when Evangelicals address LDS (and RLDS) it is attack instead of “critique.”

  45. Raymond, I wouldn’t say that LDS never criticize other churches. But it doesn’t seem that common, now that you mention it.

    I remember making a somewhat biting remark about Protestantism in Gospel Doctrine class a few months ago, and I had at least a few people in the audience quietly tut-tut me, and heard an audible “well, that’s a little harsh to say.”

    This was after I had had a particularly annoying session over at MarkCares weblog, and I wasn’t in the most charitable mood.

    But I think you’re right that LDS are culturally averse to criticizing even other churches – although I think this may be a recent cultural development (I seem to recall critiques were a little more common in the past than they are now).

    I do know that I got involved online purely because I felt the need to defend and explain my own faith. I almost never go onto an online discussion attacking another religion unless it is a part of me defending my religion.

    I’ve never, to my recollection, said anything negative about Jehovah’s Witnesses online for instance. This is because JWs simply don’t go picking fights online. They leave me alone. I leave them alone.

    That’s how it works.

  46. Raymond ~ Fourth, let me point our something else: Mormons in general do not invest a lot of time and energy in critiquing OTHER people’s churches, either.

    This April General Conference talk attacking the doctrine of hell. Whom is that a critique of?

    And whom was Elder Tad R. Callister referring to at the last General Conference when he said:

    We are moved by the Savior’s submission and find strength in His example to do likewise, but what would have been the depth and passion of Christ’s submission or the motivational power of that example if the Father and the Son were the same being and in reality the Son was merely following His own will under a different name?

    Seems like every General Conference contains a critique of traditional Christianity somewhere, some more ham-fisted than others. I don’t know what qualifies as “a lot,” but Mormons certainly do critique us.

  47. Tim said:

    Here is an article from someone in my local congregation offering a critique of a recent sermon

    And I’m still trying to figure out if the guy’s comments on Mormons were more of a compliment or more of an insult …

    It’s the first time I’ve heard us characterized as people people who don’t share our faith.

    Kullervo said:

    But part of “being a faithful Mormon” means not criticizing your leaders or the Church. At all.

    Baloney.

    Kullervo also said:

    while Wills openly criticizes his Church, he nevertheless submits to the authority of Rome and takes communion and goes to confession like he is supposed to. And the Church is fine with that.

    Obviously, there are huge cultural differences between the LDS and Catholic churches. But I haven’t seen signs lately that the LDS leadership is all that upset by constructive criticism, even from within the church. I don’t think that Harry Reid is in any danger of disciplinary action, and there are plenty of church members who seem to speak fairly freely in the bloggernacle without taking big steps to hide their identity. No, we’re not as free-wheeling as our evangelical friends, but neither do I see Salt Lake City acting like a dictatorship either.

  48. I just like to point out to readers that the real crux of the post, as I read it, isn’t just about differences or even that Evangelicals attack or critique others. The point of the post, as I read it, isn’t just that Mormons and Evangelicals are different. I think most of us here have been saying that for years. It’s certainly useful to discuss the differences and learn more about each other (and to hopefully be accurate in our representations).

    But the premise is that one difference, “a culture of critique” whatever that is, it’s still unclear, constitutes a barrier to communication between Mormons and Evangelicals. I still fail to see any examples of this as a barrier to communication.

    Tim and I are apparently having a failure to communicate on this blog right now, but I certainly don’t think this has anything even remotely to do with Tim debating other Evangelicals and me apparently never critiquing other LDS.

  49. Jack: I agree with you, but I think it is accurate to say that Mormons don’t often specifically attack other Christians. So while you can always find a statement against the Trinity or Nicea, etc., you’re not likely to find any statements about Methodists or the Assembly of God in particular.

  50. Aquinas, I’m really at a loss. You clearly understand my premise and other people seem to think I have a valid point. The link from “Article VI” seems to indicate that I’m not only speaking clearly but what I have to say is helpful to others. I’ve had non-regular visitors to my blog review it and they’ve told me everything seems to be in order. I really don’t understand what my premise is missing that would be helpful to you.

    Perhaps you can say it the way you think I should say it. Or perhaps you can list some sort of examples that would convince you. I’m truly and desperately at a loss for what you need from me.

  51. I’m truly confused as to why Tim’s suggestion that Mormons aren’t very welcoming of critique is so controversial. Here’s a couple statements I stumbled onto at an old New Cool Thang post tonight by Jacob J:

    “Culturally, we have made confrontation (and even disagreement in many respects) off limits.”

    And:

    “We have created a culture where disagreeing with someone is akin to insulting them.”

    I’ve only scanned the comments on this old post but I don’t see a lot of people disagreeing with Jacob J’s assertions here. Apparently plenty of Mormons agree that Mormonism doesn’t foster a great environment for disagreement and critique.

    Brian ~ I’m not sure broadly criticizing traditional Christianity makes much of a difference. If evangelicals only criticized things broadly accepted by all Mormon traditions—Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, the Apostasy—would that make it better?

    Mormonism occupies an odd position. Theologically it can be regarded as its own new religious tradition, right up there with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc. Size-wise, you can categorize it as something narrower like the Pentecostal movement. So we can go either way with that.

  52. Tim, do you think the Article VI correctly depicted your post? In other words, do you think the “culture of critique” is negative and counter-productive? I read the Article VI post as well. John Schroeder’s comment is that there is unfortunately an Evangelical “culture of attack” that is negative and that doesn’t serve Evangelicals. Now, if that is what you are trying to say then I misread your post.

    I thought your post was that Evangelicals are not doing anything wrong by criticizing Mormons, but actually something very good (like the Centurion program), something they do with each other all the time that is healthy, it’s just “feedback” and normal “give and take.” In your example of the New Yorker and the Southern gentleman, you aren’t saying that the New Yorker has a negative culture, are you? As I understand you, you are saying that it’s not that the New Yorker is doing anything wrong, just like the Evangelical is not doing anything wrong, but it’s just “unfamiliar” to the Mormon who has never heard anything like it before, just like it is unfamiliar to the Southern gentleman.

    If you think the Article VI post is saying the same thing you are, then I’m really confused.

  53. Jack.

    We know we’re discouraged from public criticism. We know that.

    We’re just also paranoid that others will take that and inflate it, yelling about “dictators” and stuff.

  54. Well…

    I think your paranoia sucks.

    Did I mention I had a rough Sunday at my husband’s ward in part due to this very issue?

    I’ll just slither off this thread before I slather you all in my bitterness.

  55. Jack: “I’m not sure broadly criticizing traditional Christianity makes much of a difference.” Sorry I wasn’t clear; I shared my “results” without my “conclusions.”

    I wasn’t making a better than/worse than argument. I was just pointing out that the type of criticism is different—which could explain why some (e.g., Seth and RTS) would say that Mormons don’t criticize other churches as much: we don’t (usually) name names. Again, that’s not a judgment.

  56. Aquinas,
    Yes, I think Schroeder’s depiction of our “culture of attack” is really not all that off the mark.

    I think there is something valuable to Evangelicals ability to critique one another just as I think there is something valuable to New Yorkers being up-front. But both have taken it to a point where they are alienating outsiders and don’t realize it.

    In the same way I think there is something valuable to how Mormons withhold criticism, but as Jack’s quotes illustrate, it can be taken too far as well leaving Mormons too sensitive to reasonable disagreement.

    I wasn’t holding the Centurions program up as an example of how Evangelical critique works. It just sparked the idea for me as they talked about churches “consumed with feelings”.

    Earlier I said:
    Brian earlier suggested that I was making Evangelicals look like they are judgmental, and sadly, that was my very point.

    And:
    we poke each other in the nose all the time. We don’t know how hard we’re hitting because we’re used to taking a punch or two.

    I thought these remarks exposed my negative feelings about it and I was perplexed that you weren’t really picking up on how negative the idea is about Evangelicals.

    Glad we could find clarification.

  57. Aquinas, I’m kind of confused as to what you’re confused about, and I’ll admit, reading you guys go back and forth is driving me a little batty!! 😀

    My reading of Tim’s post wasn’t so much that he was making a value judgment one way or the other–i.e. “New York” culture of critique = good and “Southern” culture of gentility = bad–but, rather, he was simply observing that because evangelical culture tends to include more give-and-take, it can be jarring to Mormons when we enter the fray. The result is that Evs can come off appearing more harsh than they intended.

    Again, he makes no VALUE JUDGMENT, like “you Mos need to lighten up and learn to engage,” just an observation of one point (among many) that may contribute to misunderstanding and hurt feelings between our groups.

    Frankly, I think it’s an interesting observation that can help Mormons have more empathy and understanding for their evangelical friends, while not taking things personally; and maybe help evangelicals lighten up a little on the rhetoric, knowing that we’re not used to that kind of rigorous debate about God.

    That’s all.

    I don’t see what’s so confusing about that.

  58. I think Tim’s point is pretty solid except the ultimate conclusions:

    “The Evangelical is offering what to him is a normal give-and-take of critique and feedback while the Mormon has never heard anyone talk this way, much less about the doctrines and leaders of the LDS church. ”

    The “give-and-take” of critique and feedback appears generally to be within a pretty tight area of issues.

    . . . and it seems a bit bizarre to think that Mormons would have “never heard anyone talk this way”

    Both these conclusions seem to be distorting the point.

    There are all kinds of issues up for grabs and subject of debate within the LDS church, partly because the leadership does not take strong stands on a lot of doctrinal issues.

    Would you agree that Mormons value Jesus’ demand for unity in the body of Christ more than Evangelicals? or would that be equally overstating the case?

  59. Would you agree that Mormons value Jesus’ demand for unity in the body of Christ more than Evangelicals? or would that be equally overstating the case?

    The word “contention” appears nine times in the KJV Bible; it appears dozens of times in the Book of Mormon, and as far as I can tell it is always seen as a negative.

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say we value unity more than anyone else does, but certainly the teaching against contention is a doctrinal factor that plays into a lack of openness. I’m not saying it should, but it does.

    I think Tim’s point is pretty solid except the ultimate conclusions

    I’m inclined to agree. There are differences in the way we deal with (or avoid) differences within our respective groups. But I don’t think the differences are so great (or that we live in such different worlds) that they are all that big of a factor in LDS-evangelical misunderstanding. I think a bigger factor is that we tend to go into conversations with preconceived nations of what the other side thinks or believes, and we don’t do a very good job of listening. But that’s a whole other subject.

  60. Jared ~ Would you agree that Mormons value Jesus’ demand for unity in the body of Christ more than Evangelicals? or would that be equally overstating the case?

    I don’t think Mormons value unity more than Evangelicals, I just think they’re more likely to interpret “unity” as uniformity.

  61. It is quite possible to discuss a disagreement without being contentious, though. As I’ve been thinking about it, I think that Tim’s brash Northerner – genteel Southerner analogy does bring a lot into this concept.

    I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but I am going to do so here only to set the context of this anecdote. I am the executive secretary in my ward. The ward clerk lives close by me, so I pick him up for our pre-church meetings, and his wife brings my wife to church.

    This past Sunday, as we were going to our meetings, we were discussing stewardship interviews as they are outlined in the Handbook of Instructions. Our discussion was definitely a critique of it, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the way the instructions are given. We were not in absolute agreement with each other, but we did not get into a heated battle, either. By the time we got to the church, we had identified where we agreed with each other, where we agreed with the Handbook, and where we disagreed.

    I see this kind of critique to be more common among Mormons than what I have personally seen among Evangelicals, which is what I think Tim was trying to say. For better or for worse, Evangelicals seem to get really heated in their critiques of each other, while Mormons try to stay cool and diplomatic. Now, this is not always the case, but I have seen it enough to understand why Tim would be able to go, “Hm, I wonder if this is part of the cause of the breakdown in communication…”

  62. BJM said:

    I don’t think Mormons value unity more than Evangelicals, I just think they’re more likely to interpret “unity” as uniformity.

    My first inclination was to agree with you, but I’m not sure that’s the case, or maybe you’re right, but there are exceptions.

    I’ve found that the Church is actually quite willing to accept wide variations from the norm — for those who have proved themselves and/or who choose their battles carefully.

    For an example of someone who as a member of the BYU faculty presumably has proven himself and feels free to sharply criticize, and even to take what would likely be seen as an extreme position within the Church, see this bloggernacle post on intelligent design.

    (I would agree with this professor, by the way, but I’m certain my home teacher wouldn’t. See, we don’t all think alike.)

    And I’ve mentioned this before, but I remember going a year or two ago to a local megachurch — where I found the people were attired far more uniformly than are the people in my ward. Because usually evangelicals can choose which church they go to, they can tend to self-select into churches with relatively little demographic variation in factors such as age or income and often even factors such as taste in music. At least where the LDS church is a small percentage of the population, wards are anything but demographically uniform; in my ward, we have doctors and attorneys as well as people living in $7,000 trailers and an age balance the matches the community’s population. So possibly for the sake of unity we may tend to make ourselves uniform in other ways. (I’m not saying that’s a good or bad thing; I’m just observing.)

  63. I’ve found that the Church is actually quite willing to accept wide variations from the norm — for those who have proved themselves and/or who choose their battles carefully.

    I think that’s the problem.

  64. Briefly, I want to thank everyone for helping to clarify this issue.

    Tim, I just hope you realize that I didn’t think that you say this “culture of critique” as anything negative from your original post. You saw it as good correction or counter-measure to excessive theology and church fads. You offer up the Centurion program as something positive. You describe Evangelical critique of other Evangelicals as “offering thoughts” about what your fellow Evangelicals is doing. You explain that Evangelicals “don’t get our noses bent out of shape over disagreement. At times, critics can be too aggressive, but generally everyone plays by the rules.” How am I supposed to think this is negative?

    In your subsequent comments, you continued this description. In response to my comment you explained “I wasn’t asking Mormons to become more self-critical. Just stating that they aren’t very self-critical and are unfamiliar with critique which presents a cultural barrier between Evangelicals.” Here too, no sign that the “culture of critique” is something negative. In fact, you are saying that Mormon “unfamiliarity with critique” presents a cultural barrier.

    In a later comment you wrote: “The point is that Evangelicals, of all stripes, are more likely to give and receive critique in religious discussions than Mormons. . . As a result, Evangelicals are more familiar with religious critique because they interact with other Evangelicals who disagree with them for one reason or another.” This too doesn’t seem negative, just different.

    None of this seems like you are saying that there is a problem with this Evangelical “culture of critique” and that this is the cause for Evangelicals being ineffective at communicating with Mormons. In fact, you particularly say in your comment “A number of Evangelicals are very judgmental, it seems to be built into our culture (whether it’s healthy or not is a different discussion).” So you aren’t saying its unhealthy, so please forgive me if I didn’t realize you were saying this is a negative thing.

    Now, you clarified by saying “I wasn’t holding the Centurions program up as an example of how Evangelical critique works.” I hope you realize that if you write a blog titled “the Evangelical Culture of Critique” and then link to the audio (and I do listen to the audio that one links to their blog) and then say of this audio that it highlights “a cultural difference between Evangelicals and Mormons” then I’m going to conclude that this is an example of what you mean. I don’t think this was an unreasonable reading, but thanks for the clarification.

    Now, if you are saying that there is an “Evangelical culture of attack“, like Schroeder suggests and that this is the cause for Evangelicals “alienating outsiders [including Mormons] and not realizing it”, then this is something I didn’t realize you were focusing on. However, if this is what you are saying, I would say most Mormons would probably agree with you as they have a lot of familiarity being on the receiving end.

    But you also state a couple of things that I’m offering my critique about. First, you state that when Evangelicals are criticizing Mormons, they are doing the same thing that they do to each other. This is arguable. I’m inclined to disagree with you on this one. The kind of rhetoric that those in the counter-cult movement use with Mormons seems to be of a different nature than when Evangelicals discuss things with each other. That’s my observation and of course you may have a different experience. But typically I do think there is a distinction between in-house language and language one uses to outsiders. And this does have to do with trust. Now, where I might agree with you is where the counter-cult movement has criticized Evangelicals who have critiqued the counter-cult movement. These Evangelicals actually do realize that Mormons are being alienated but are criticized for saying so. In that case, I’m more inclined to agree with you.

    Secondly, even if Mormons also had a “culture of critique” amongst themselves I do not believe this would eliminate a barrier to communication between Mormons and Evangelicals. Why? Because again, this is language between two faith communities, not language from inside a faith community. This language is going to be different. I suppose I give much more weight to this dynamic than do you. Thanks again for the clarification and I hope you can see where I was coming from as well.

  65. Yes, I see how your confusion was created. Thanks for listening to the audio, I’m glad I could clarify that it was merely an inspirational spark.

    Part of the confusion arose because I don’t think the “culture of critique” is all bad. I see great benefit to it. It often does turn to a “culture of attack” and that is its negative. Perhaps the idea would have been better served if I had talked about how the good often becomes bad. But I clearly needed this public interaction to develop the thought.

    I absolutely agree that there is a greater barrier because we come from two different faith traditions. It’s just an added dynamic that Evangelicals don’t know how aggressive they may unintentionally come off.

    As an Evangelical, I’m not so certain that we “save” our worst just for our counter-cult expressions. Elsewhere, I’m currently being raked over the coals for not believing in a literal 6-day creation. I can assure you it’s every bit as nasty as what I have seen Mormons receive. I take it back that everyone “plays by the rules”.

  66. I agree with Tim that the “culture of critique” is not all bad. I also agree that Evangelicals can be just as nasty with each other as they are with outsiders. In fact, in my opinion, it sometimes seemed that certain Evangelicals were harder on each other than they were to outsiders. I believe “the pugnacious Irishman” really added much to the sermon by his critique, because he really wasn’t just slamming the whole sermon, just the fact that to him it de-emphasized using words to spread the gospel. I especially liked the fact that he used personal examples to show where he himself had fallen short, and how he thought he could have done better. In my opinion, truly valuable “critique” needs to offer a solution, not just rant about what’s wrong.

  67. Tim said:

    Elsewhere, I’m currently being raked over the coals for not believing in a literal 6-day creation.

    Would you say those doing that are evangelicals or fundamentalists?

    I tend to conflate the two, or to think of fundamentalists as a subset of evangelicals. But that’s only partly true. There’s really a different thinking style (for lack of a better phrase) between fundamentalists and, say, authors of the articles that appear in Christianity Today. I would suspect that evangelical-fundamentalist dialogue could be just as challenging as evangelical-LDS dialogue, although for different reasons.

  68. Jared questions: Would you agree that Mormons value Jesus’ demand for unity in the body of Christ more than Evangelicals?

    In thinking of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, no, I don’t. And it shows up by a general lack of critique or care concerning sound doctrine. For example, a united care in the Scouting Food Drive is more important than a united care for Christology. Yet it is fundamental for the oneness and unity of the Church that elders/bishops teach sound doctrine. This is N.T. Therefore, we must have continually accountability and critique.

    But I will say this: evangelicals will critique that which is contrary to sound doctrine and forget sometimes about how important it is to critique our good deeds. In the presence of our LDS friends, a united wave of good deeds demonstrated among us evangelicals is a powerful witness.

  69. And Eric, a fundamentalist/evangelical dialogue is strained when the evangelical says that President Thomas S. Monson really does believe the fundamentals of the Bible.

  70. I dunno, Kullervo. I think it’s a blurry line where one can really go either way. I lean towards considering fundamentalism a separate-but-related entity from evangelicalism that sometimes overlaps just as mainline Protestantism is a separate-but-related entity from evangelicalism that sometimes overlaps.

    Have you read Fundamentalism and American Culture by George M. Marsden, Todd? It’s one of the texts for my “History of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism” class, and the one I’m working through right now.

    The other texts are:

    The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement by Douglas Sweeney
    In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 by David Beale
    The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry

  71. I have gone through three of the four, and a whole host of other volumes on the topic, Jack.

    Kevin T. Bauder is one of best thinkers within American Christian fundamentalism today, if one could still call it a movement. The historic idea is worth defending. Google Kevin. Your class would be completely deficit without discussing Kevin’s contemporary posts on the subject.

    Andy Naselli, in your neck of the woods at Trinity, is a walking, living resource.

    http://andynaselli.com/theology/category/kevin-bauder

    Also, here is an example of a church within the historical evangelical/fundamental stream – Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C.

    http://www.mountcalvarybaptist.org/

    Both Andy and I spent time in this church.

    Hey, Kullervo: maybe neo-evangelicalism and emergent streams are subsets of historical evangelicalism/fundamentalism. 🙂

    (P.S. – I just received a letter from a friend today, writing that his paganism is really the “old-time religion”. And that everything else is a distorted reaction or spin-off.)

  72. Ugh. Unless your friend is a hard-core pagan reconstructionist, that is super-unlikely.

  73. Tim and others: great thought and thread. I’ve been on a long sabbatical from lds-ev. blogging and just invited myself back.

    Tim, it seems with creation/evolution, you’ve stumbled into some ‘by-rules’ for the culture of critique, at least in some circles: border patrol can get pretty mean over stuff that is hardly the ‘main and plain’. Maybe this is the culture of critique gone wrong, on roids, etc.. I think you are right about the theological differences, and would posit that there are also cultural ingredients to any group that make critique welcome or unwelcome. Many ev. groups that have a proper respect for 1st Thess 5:20,21 nevertheless have ‘exemptions’ because of x,y,and z.

    As an aside, I’d say the ability to disagree in a Christ-like manner is a definite hallmark of maturity.

    Peace on grace on all who love the LAMB
    GERMIT

  74. Seth and Jack: rec”d. Thanks, nice to see your scholarly faces (well, ICON, in Seth’s case, I guess)

    Sounds like you are up to waist in TED’s, required reading, Jack, I’m praying that you are able to extract the good and keep a shred of sanity (for your kid/husband’s benefit). Wish I had school to do over, but that’s not how it works.

    thanks for the reading lists, and suggestions
    Pax

    Germit

  75. Hey Katie, missed U2….Bono and all. I hope you’ve had some good, soul feeding blogs while I was on my walkabout……and some great fashion tips…. 🙂

    Germit

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