On Your Own Terms

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

I’ve listened to a couple of podcast interviews with non-conventional Mormons that have left me uneasy. There’s plenty of debate in the Bloggernacle about the fruit and benefits of the New-Order Mormonism movement and specifically about John Dehlin’s StayLDS site. I’ve largely stayed out of those conversations but I feel like I have something new to add to the conversation.

It’s no mystery that I have serious problems with the teachings of Mormonism. I’d like to see its heretical teachings eroded. I heard someone suggest that termites quietly eating away a building from the inside will bring about destruction much more quickly than locust slamming into the walls from the outside. So in that regard I would assume for myself that I would be quietly cheering on this new movement of liberal and unorthodox Mormons.

But when I hear the dreams and visions of these “Mormons” for the LDS church I find that I don’t really like hearing them call themselves Mormons. Often they’re really humanist or agnostics desperately clinging to keep a Mormon identity all-the-while hating Mormon origins and rejecting virtually everything the LDS church distinctively teaches. There are often things they like about Mormonism, but they are typically things they have adopted into Mormonism not necessarily things unique to Mormonism. They’ve made Mormonism into their own image. They fight tooth and nail to hold on to the Mormonism they’ve made, though it looks nothing like the Mormonism of Thomas Monson.

The thing about being a Mormon on your own terms is that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not salty. I could be a Mormon on my own terms. Everyone in the world is a Mormon on their own terms; they just aren’t calling themselves Mormon. The same goes for Christianity, Buddhism and Paganism. The goal of every religion is to fashion its followers’ worldviews into conformity with its teachings. The point is not to transform your religion into your own image.  If you’re not being transformed into the image of your religion, you’re not really “in” it, you’re merely “of” it. You have the wrong kind of taste.

Joanna Brooks of AskMormonGirl.com offers her services for unorthodox Mormon answers. But if she knows her answers are unorthodox, does she have any place in calling them “Mormon”? Can you give answers that don’t conform to your religion’s teachings and still claim those answers belong to your religion? By acknowledging that her answers are unorthodox she does damage to Mormonism by replacing its teachings with a substitute and she does damage to her readers by misleading them about the nature of Mormonism. If she and others like her cannot find another religion it would make much more sense to me if they started a new religion and make an honest claim about representing that religion.

Follow the path of Joseph Smith. If none of the religions represent Heavenly Father, don’t join any of them. Call it “Reformed Mormonism”.  Call it “United Mormonism”. Call it “The Community of Christ”. Just don’t call it Mormonism. There doesn’t seem to be much to lose other than the habit and anguish of banging your head against a wall and the constant rejection of those you say you love.

I am not suggesting that the LDS church should start a purge of such individuals.  There are good theological reasons for the LDS church not to do this.  There are good humanitarian reasons for the LDS church not to do this.  But the example of Zell Miller just doesn’t look comfortable or healthy to me. While I pray for my own reforms within Mormonism I’m not holding my breath.

Advertisements

98 thoughts on “On Your Own Terms

  1. A friend of mine told me a story of a girl he met that said she was Pro-Life. She said with a straight face “I’m totally against abortion, except in the case of the life of the mother. . . or rape . . . or if I happen to get drunk and get pregnant on accident”.

    Maybe sometimes people just have an emotional attachment to a label that they want for themselves.

  2. It’s no mystery that I have serious problems with the teachings of Mormonism. I’d like to see its heretical teachings eroded.

    The thing about being a Mormon on your own terms is that it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not salty.

    I’m not really sure how Mormonism would be Mormonism with the things you consider to be heretical teachings removed. Wouldn’t that just be “Mormonism on your own terms”? If so, why not just say that you’d like to see Mormonism cease to exist, and its members blend into the greater Evangelical community?

    Getting more to the point of the post (or at least as I am understanding it), any given group is going to have a large number of unorthodox members who insist on using the same label that the more orthodox members use. At what point does the unorthodoxy go too far? There a number of people I have gone to church with who have made me feel intensely uncomfortable with their views and their beliefs. Some of these views create discomfort because of the extremely narrow interpretation they use; the ultra-conservative Latter-day Saints (conservative in their observation of their religion, not in their political views). And, of course, we have the ultra-liberal Latter-day Saints, who figure just about everything can fit within the LDS framework. I would consider both sides unorthodox, but, just because I am uncomfortable with their views, I don’t see that as a reason to question their desire to call themselves Mormons.

    I am annoyed when the FLDS are referred to as “Mormons” (although in recent days they have been more regularly called “Fundamentalist Mormons”), but that is their choice. I have known a few people who thought the FLDS are exemplary of the LDS community, but these are folks who didn’t even know that they knew Mormons (mea culpa, I’m sure). Most people I know, though, see the extreme examples of people who claim to be Mormons and say, “Wow, that person really isn’t a Mormon. Why do they say they are?” It is definitely a good example of the “by their fruits ye shall know them” test.

  3. If so, why not just say that you’d like to see Mormonism cease to exist, and its members blend into the greater Evangelical community?

    Okay, I’d like to see Mormonism cease to exist and its members blend into the greater Evangelical community.

    These unorthodox members seem to want to see Mormonism cease to exist as well.

  4. I think part of what they may be trying to emulate is what the Jewish faith has done. There remains a very real identity and community role for Jewish people – even those who are essentially atheists.

  5. I can identify with Seth’s comment. One of my best friends growing up was Jewish and in his late teens and early adulthood he went from Judaism to Buddhism to Atheism to Agnosticism. But he still identifies himself as part of the Jewish community, which he considers separate from the Jewish faith.

    Likewise, there are Mormons who are part of the Mormon culture who may not identify themselves as “practicing Mormons” – I’m thinking of all the many celebrities who were raised LDS and still speak of being Mormon even though they haven’t set foot inside an LDS chapel in years.

    I recall talking with my family members about this once and we decided that there are many Mormons who are just not Latter-day Saints.

  6. Many LDS view the unorthodox/NOMs as a wolf in sheep’s clothing to remain an active member of the LDS church if they have shared their beliefs. It’s a very tough road for those who choose to remain LDS after losing their testimony. But even my apostate family members are still viewed as Mormon by outsiders. It’s nearly impossible to remove that identity when you’ve been raised in it because of the culture and heritage.

    There really isn’t much in the way of commonalities for “New Order Mormons” on what they believe or represent.

    For example, some find Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet who lost the mantle when he began to have revelations/visions to raise seed with other women outside of his marriage to Emma.

    Many still have a belief in Christ and the atonement, and see the church as good of a vehicle as any to worship him.

    Others are in the “I don’t know” stage, and don’t want to burn bridges.

    And then there are the agnostics who still see the good of the church, even though they don’t believe in any of it.

    The two things a New Order Mormon shares in common is: the belief that the church has many good qualities they support, and see it as a good vehicle for their families to raise their families with virtues. They also share the same experience of becoming shocked and disillusioned with the church upon learning the unvarnished history. Beyond that, I haven’t seen much in the way of commonalities.

    When it comes down to it, there is no true doctrine in the Mormon church. All mainstream LDS are cafeteria Mormons. (even though Chapel Mormons don’t realize it)
    So does it really matter whether a New Order Mormon identifies as Mormon since they all choose from the buffet table?

  7. The power of a self-identification label can be very strong.

    In terms of percentage, the phenomenon certainly must be more pronounced in the Catholic Church. It isn’t hard to find examples of people, even famous ones, who openly and unapologetically engage in behavior that the Catholic Church unequivocally condemns — using birth control, advocating for legalized abortion and cohabitating are the examples that come readily to mind — and yet still consider themselves Catholics, maybe even devout Catholics.

    It’s easy for me, as an outsider, to ask: Why bother to consider yourself Catholic is you aren’t even going to try to follow what your church teaches? But I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Don’t most of us to some extent accept our religion on our own terms?

    I can understand why, especially if a person was raised in an LDS household, are person might continue to identify with the Church even when he/she no longer believes. What bothers me about the Stay LDS folks is that they seem to advocate lying (although they don’t call it that) in temple recommend interviews and such in order to stay in the Church, and I don’t think that’s right. I think you’re better off being honest about where you’re coming from and let the chips fall where they may. I realize that in many instances that’s easier said than done.

  8. Great post, Tim, and I like your point that too many unorthodox Mormons are just trying to remake the LDS Church in line with their own religious opinions. But I also think that criticism reflects the standard Protestant view that if you don’t affirm the doctrines and beliefs of your denomination (perhaps expressed in detail in a creed or catechism), you should just go find the denomination that matches up with your own beliefs. Or even start your own church. That’s how Protestants think about belief, doctrine, and institutional affiliation, and there are plenty of alternative denominations to choose from.

    But there aren’t five dozen Mormon denominations, just one main church (the LDS Church), one large offshoot (the Community of Christ), and a handful of small fundamentalist movements. So, instead, an unorthodox Mormon who wants to retain his or her Mormon identity on different terms tries to carve out some logical space for that modified Mormon identity. Unorthodox Catholics and Jews do much the same thing, although since they’ve been around so much longer, much of the carving has already been done.

  9. What is the savor that Jesus was talking about?

    It had little or nothing to do with complying with the orthodoxy of the religion but doing good to others, being a light to others, loving others, following the guidance of his teachings.

    Jesus and his followers were far from orthodox, but they still considered themselves very Jewish. They were just jewish, on their own terms”

    A clinging to “orthodoxy” doesn’t necessarily translate to any less of taking religion on your own terms. Most every adult who can distinguish between religions is religious “on their own terms”.

    I suppose New Order Mormons are as much “Mormon” as liberal Anglicans are “Protestant”. I can’t see the difference in the use of that sort of label.

  10. I would like to share a personal New Order Mormon story that has upset me…(sorry so long)

    I was called in recently for an interview (alongside my spouse) by our Bishop for a new calling. (who hasn’t been our Bishop for more than a year).
    He first asked me if I had received any spiritual promptings about the meeting. I answered honestly that I hadn’t. I figured it was a new calling for my spouse, since I had only been in my new calling for a year. He then revealed that a certain person had been praying about who to call to his important position and had VERY strong spiritual promptings that I was the person who should be called.

    I was then asked a series of questions about how busy my life is, and if I would be able to handle the amount of work this new calling was going to be. He informed me that it was a leadership calling that would require a lot of commitment, and he needed to know how I felt about that.

    I wondered to myself at this point how much my previous Bishop had shared with him about past discussions (5 years ago) on my abhorrence to polygamy and sickness over Joseph Smith.
    The Bishop later told me he knew nothing of it, but my spouse has sat in on those council meetings and knows that struggling members are discussed. It’s hard to believe he had no idea of my past inactivity over polygamy.

    I had a feeling that the Bishop was fishing around to find out my current state of belief. He then asked if I had any worthiness issues to accept the call. It was then that I felt compelled to confess that I did not have a sure testimony of the true church. That I had never had one my entire life, although I had once said I knew the church was true in order to gain a testimony. (as counseled by Prophets)

    I stressed to the Bishop how hard I had tried and done everything in my power to gain a sure witness my entire life, but never could feel the certainty others expressed. Ultimately it had led me to study polygamy because I felt my sickness of that former practice was the issue blocking me from obtaining a strong testimony.

    It was then that he went off on his own little defensive tangent about his experience with anti Mormon literature and how nobody has ever convicted Joseph Smith of a crime, even though they keep trying. I didn’t see any point to engage with him on any of the details of church history and quietly acquiesced to his thoughts so I could keep the peace. I hadn’t said anything to attack his beliefs so his comments were interesting.

    I changed the subject by sharing a testimony of my strong belief in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. That because of my shock at church history, it had almost led to despair because my entire faith in Christ was rooted through Joseph Smith. But through the struggle it led me to develop a new stronger foundation in my Savior and I finally had peace again. I also shared that I was now ok with not knowing if the church was true, and I’ve come to accept that I won’t know until the after life. For some reason God has chosen to not give me the witness he gives others, and I was fine with that. We are all born with different gifts. He agreed and said he has always had the gift of knowing the church is true. Maybe I needed to believe on the testimony of others.

    I then said “I may not be able to say “I KNOW” the church is true, but if I have a testimony of the atonement of Christ, isn’t that what matters most? Ultimately, isn’t all of THIS (Mormonism) supposed to lead us to that?

    It was after I shared this, that he then received the prompting that he would not be able to call me to the position, because as a leader I would be required to bare testimony of the true church. Since I couldn’t do that, I had “missed an opportunity to serve.” He really emphasized that it was my fault I hadn’t gained a testimony.

    I wanted to say, “maybe it’s you who missed an opportunity. I have special gifts too.”

    But I left respectfully, and agreed with the Bishop that I wasn’t fit to serve in that calling based on his criteria. Feeling a little wounded that I’m not good enough for the Mormon church, I’m beginning to question my decision to “stayLDS.”

  11. Oh Seven.

    /hug

    I wish I could say something to ease your mind. I think the story of how you found faith in the Lord is beautiful.

    You keep trying to stay LDS if you feel like that’s what you need to do. But if you change your mind, please remember that there are other places you can go where there will be room for your gifts.

    BTW, you might want to talk to Katie L. about having a leadership calling when you’re unsure of your testimony. It sounds like you two could have a lot to talk about.

  12. The Community of Christ is part of Mormonism. Fundamentalist Mormons are part of Mormonism. Individual believers who are members of the LDS Church and have varying degrees of participation and differing beliefs and feelings about the hierarchy of the LDS Church are part of Mormonism. Thomas Monson is also a part of Mormonism.

    However, the institution of the LDS Church is not the religion, it is an institution within the religion. Additionally, the hierarchy of the LDS Church is not the institution; it is a power-center within the institution, which has successively grabbed more and more power into its hands. However, despite the fact that the LDS hierarchy defines itself as the LDS Church and defines the church as the religion, they are (in fact) separate things with separate histories.

    There are different, competing narratives, some of which go back to the very first members of the movement. Therefore do not call Thomas Monson’s corporation “Mormonism” — rather, call it what it is: the leadership or hierarchy of an institution within Mormonism, the LDS Church.

  13. Fair enough John, but what of the people within the LDS church who do not believe what the LDS church teaches? Perhaps “Mormon” is too broad a term, but they are claiming to be in community with the LDS church.

    Seven, thanks for sharing that story. I assure you that God wants to use your gifts for his Kingdom.

    Dave, I recognize I’m calling out a Protestant impulse by suggesting that people shouldn’t stick around, but it isn’t just something Martin Luther did. It’s exactly what Joseph Smith did.

  14. John, I agree with you that all of the branches you mentioned (and those you didn’t, but also exist) are parts of Mormonism. However, I think that when given the choice between saying that I am a Follower of the Leadership or Hierarchy of the Institution within Mormonism Commonly Known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and saying that I am a Mormon, I’m probably going to choose the latter, unless I am feeling particularly persnickety, in which case I’ll say I am a Latter-day Saint.

    Seven, I do hope you take a chance to talk with Katie L. She’s an amazing person!

  15. I think Tim’s motivation for the post is clear, to him, people can’t move-on, become “true” believers if they don’t move past Mormonism, ESPECIALLY if they don’t even believe in Mormonism. From the protestant paradigm you are condemning yourself to stagnation since Mormonism is wrong in the first place.

    From the Mormon point of view, it makes a lot of sense to support New Order Mormons to remain in the church since their association with the church in a positive way will invariably lead more people to stay than leave.

    Mormon exclusionist sentiments, like that of Seven’s bishop are obviously not taking into account the practical benefit of having bright, talented, not-so-true-believing people involved intimately in the church. But I would imagine that every church has these sorts of tendencies, My guess is that few of the New Order Mormons are going to be welcomed into protestant churches as teachers and leaders right away (nor would most want to).

    From my point of view I think there is a lot to be gained by remaining a part of an organization even where you don’t support every part of their agenda and ideology. (Which is why I am a Democrat)

    Of course there is something for said for the Ralph Nader’s and Joseph Smith’s of this world.

  16. Actually Jared, I was speaking more to the secularist, humanist, atheist and agnostics of the NOM world rather than the Sevens. I really didn’t take into account that some New Order Mormons are Evangelicals making their peace with the deficiencies of Mormonism (like Grant Palmer).

    You and Zell Miller can be buddies in the Democratic party, after I moved to California (from Oklahoma) I quickly realized that the Democratic party was never again going to look like what I wanted it to look like. Though I may not have shifted in my political leanings, I couldn’t delude myself into ignoring the fact that the Democratic party had.

    From my point of view I think there is a lot to be gained by joining an organization that is more similar to you even when you don’t support every part of their agenda and ideology. (Which is why I am a Republican)

  17. I see that, believers like Seven didn’t seem to fit the target of the post (or me for that matter).

    Well, there are plenty of knuckleheads in any political party (or church), deciding how much incompatibility you can stand is always the difficulty in affiliating with any organization.

  18. I said:

    What bothers me about the Stay LDS folks is that they seem to advocate lying (although they don’t call it that) in temple recommend interviews and such in order to stay in the Church, and I don’t think that’s right.

    To which Seven responded:

    where do they advocate lying in the temple recommend interview?

    I may not have hedged my words carefully enough, but in material linked to from the home page of the Stay LDS site, they advise specifically against lying but (in my opinion) take a wink-wink attitude toward interpreting the temple recommend questions in an esoteric way such that the “right” answers can be given.

    The best comparison I can think of is Bill Clinton, who in my opinion did not technically commit perjury before the grand jury because he was extremely careful to interpret and answer questions in such a way that he could avoid a perjury conviction if it ever came to that. But did he deceive the grand jury? You bet. And I interpret the advice on the Stay LDS site to suggesting doing something similar.

    I’ll grant that the group does say that you shouldn’t answer question in such a way that you conscience would be violated. And I agree that the recommend questions are worded in such a way that there is a latitude of belief that would be acceptable. But overall I find the tone of what is advised to be inconsistent with open honesty.

    That said, I didn’t see anything in what you (Seven) said in your post above that would cause me (if I were a bishop) to deny you a temple recommend. But, obviously, not all bishops or stake presidents would see it that way.

  19. Because Mormonism is well described as a new religion, it seems it’s maturity level will soon reach a bifurcation point akin to what Catholicism faced when it faced the decision between big or small c catholicism (ie broad or narrow acceptance of an acceptable standard of belief).

    I suspect Mormonism strong focus on Christ like action may tilt the balance toward accomodation-but I could be wrong. I also suspect the cultural tendencies away from confrontation may also tip the landscape.

  20. I think we deceive ourselves to think we don’t make religion into our own image and don’t do the same for god. Certainly people do this to much different degrees, but theology is one thing when the level of precision vastly outweighs any reasonable level of accuracy (IMHO).

    I would suspect the savor analogy applies when people don’t care more than it does when people care about something non-orthodox.

  21. I’m pretty postmodern in outlook, so perhaps that’s where the ideological divide between us mostly lies, Tim. I mostly see religions as cultures, and probably because of that, I’m having a hard time understanding what you see as the major problem with New Order Mormons staying in the church. Yeah, everyone could be Mormon on their own terms…but who cares? Why is that a problem? Why not let people who self identify as Mormon define Mormonism?

  22. Because if Mormonism is true, it’s definition is not in the hands of those who self-identify as Mormons. It’s in the hands of God (and delivered through Thomas Monson). As a religion, Mormonism’s shape doesn’t belong in the hands of those who don’t believe it (even if they want to say they are Mormon).

    I’m with you with if Mensa, the ACLU or Focus on the Family want to reshape themselves.

  23. But you don’t believe Mormonism is true. Hence my point: why not leave it to Mormons to decide what is and isn’t allowed under the banner “Mormonism”?

    The Holy Spirit leads the church into truth, and what holds believers together in orthodoxy is the Holy Spirit, not a set of doctrines external to ourselves to which we cling. I imagine you don’t believe that to be true of the LDS church, so I’m still confused. If the Holy Spirit is not testifying to members of the LDS church about the truth of its doctrines, then the LDS church is a very, very different sort of body than the body of Christ is. How can there be Mormon orthodoxy with no Holy Spirit leading the way? And even more to the point, how can Mormon adherence to a set of doctrines external to themselves, a body of truths to which the Holy Spirit is not testifying, be something you are passionate about protecting?

  24. As your friendly neighborhood gadfly, I’d like to give you my interpretation of this post. As Tim has clearly stated in this post, which is consistent with past posts, his desire is for Latter-day Saints to completely leave the Church. Tim views this as a completely legitimate position (based on the Great Commission) and one that Mormons take in regards to his faith. He believes all Mormons want him to completely leave his faith and embrace Mormonism (again based on the Great Commission). So far, I think none of this is controversial.

    So what is the real problem? Why would Tim be upset about Mormons who still “cling” with Mormonism because they see something redeeming in it despite having problems and concerns, even serious ones? Is it because Tim doesn’t want Mormonism’s pure heritage to be corrupted by these religious innovators? Or perhaps is it because Tim doesn’t find anything redeeming in Mormonism no matter what shape or form it takes? For example, take this statement:

    “There are often things they like about Mormonism, but they are typically things they have adopted into Mormonism not necessarily things unique to Mormonism.”

    In other words, even the good things that people see in Mormonism, aren’t indigenous to Mormonism, they must be brought from outside Mormonism and injected into it because Mormonism is devoid of anything redeeming in and of itself. This dovetails with Tim’s previously stated view that true Christians can serendipitously be found in the LDS Church for a time, but they will eventually leave.

    I think Tim’s post has the potential to appeal to conservative Mormons who genuinely dislike the possibility that their Mormon identity is being reshaped or watered down. Certainly that is the concern of many Mormons who detest the Evangelical-Mormon dialogue, feeling that Mormons are “compromising” doctrine. It’s advantageous to appeal to this concern. But I hope Mormons can look beyond the superficial reading.

    The real problem with people self-identifying as Mormons is that it makes it very difficult for critics to engage in classical boundary maintenance. How can the critic claim that people should leave Mormonism, when so many people are offering viable alternative solutions for staying Mormon? Critics want to present two choices: Either stay Mormons and be completely dissatisfied for the rest of your life, or leave Mormonism and free your mind! Those providing alternative choices messy up this calculus, and in the process make it very difficult for critics of Mormonism to continue to offer Mormons either the red pill or the blue pill. This post ultimately not about identity, it’s about boundary maintenance and deconversion strategies (and the fact that alternative voices in Mormonism make it harder for critics to employ these approaches).

    The fact that it would appear that Tim’s concerns seem to coincide with the concern of conservative Mormons is merely a happy coincidence. As a strong advocate of interfaith dialogue and as an advocate for identifying common beliefs, this is one example where I would not advocate conservative Mormons and Tim to join together against alternative Mormon voices. Why? Because there is a subtext and the underlying motivation is completely different. I hope Mormons will be able to analyze and understand Tim’s post from that perspective. Whether I personally agree with the content of these alternative views or even dissident Mormons is irrelevant to my meta-analysis here, because Tim’s approach continues to be based on the premise that nothing good can come from Mormonism. I simply cannot endorse this view, nor do I hold the reciprocal view nothing good can come from Catholic or Evangelical faith traditions. My philosophy of interfaith dialogue is premised in the belief that we should compare good qualities in our own faiths, allowing for “holy envy” as Kristen Stendahl has advocated. I hope this adequately explains my concerns.

    What would I propose as a good strategy were I a consultant for Evangelicals trying to reach Mormons? First of all, investigate the reason for these alternative views. Second, find things redeeming in these alternative voices. Do any of these alternative provide a healthier view of God or the nature of man, or the view of the Church or prophets from an Evangelical perspective? If so, then seek to encourage and advocate that, and encourage Mormons to adopt such views. If you like, you can even use rhetoric like “While I believe so and so is on the right track in this regard, she doesn’t go far enough.” But at least, look at the good things and identify them. Now, one of the problems with this approach is that it requires someone to see the good in Mormonism, even alternative venues. Those who are so constituted that this is impossible for them to do, simply won’t be be able to avail themselves of this approach.

    Now, it may be that my characterization of Tim’s views and his source of frustration for alternative voices in Mormonism is completely off base, unfounded and simply wrong. If that is the case, then I’m completely willing to be corrected. But I’m hoping to offer some food for thought here and provide the needed contextual understanding.

  25. Wow, aquinas…you just became one of my new favorite bloggers. I’ll leave it to Tim to tell you whether or not you’ve hit the nail on the head, but I found your post to be extremely insightful. And I love this:

    “First of all, investigate the reason for these alternative views. Second, find things redeeming in these alternative voices. Do any of these alternative provide a healthier view of God or the nature of man, or the view of the Church or prophets from an Evangelical perspective? If so, then seek to encourage and advocate that, and encourage Mormons to adopt such views.”

  26. I think what you might be missing, Tim, is that Mormonism is more than a religion, but a distinct culture, a heritage, a way of being. I think John Dehlin has even said, “It’s in my DNA.”

    I’m not sure that outsiders can fully comprehend what that means (nor should they have to), but as a frame of reference, I would liken it more to Judaism than another Christian denomination.

    In that sense, StayLDS Mormons don’t want to leave the church, because it would be like turning their back on their heritage. You talk about Mormonism as an authoritarian religious structure that demands to be “true” in a very narrow sense of the word. I agree that this is one interpretation of Mormonism — perhaps even the most prevalent among active LDS — but StayLDS-type Mormons reject that definition of “true,” plain and simple. Theirs (ours?) is a much more nuanced perspective.

    For example, I don’t buy into the idea that the Brethren get to say what’s true and what isn’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t often teach truth, but truth is what it is, not what some governing body says it is. Everyone sees through a glass, darkly — so I take responsibility for my own beliefs and feel at liberty to construct my belief life according to the dictates of my own conscience.

    This approach is not without tension. I expect that many of my LDS friends would be deeply uncomfortable with that last paragraph. And I’ll confess that while I long to feel acceptance from my culture, because I’ve shifted the authority from the institution to myself, I will probably always be an outsider looking in — at least on some level. At times I wonder if my yearning to be a functioning part of my community isn’t a terrible weakness, if God doesn’t want me to be brave and walk away — but the pull to stay is strong, and I think that might be from God, too.

    Could God be telling me both things?

    Perhaps. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this journey, it’s that things aren’t always as simple as you’d hope.

  27. Well, it’s true that nothing seems to piss off the countercultists I encounter more than me suggesting that the stupidest version of Mormonism isn’t necessarily the only option available (or I could be more charitable and say “most familiar”).

    But then, some folk don’t like being made to do intellectual heavy lifting.

  28. Seven, I’m sorry to hear about your experience with your bishop. 😦 This past week, I was just released from my calling in the Relief Society Presidency to be put into the Primary Presidency in my ward. It’s a struggle at times to stay upbeat and positive in leadership capacities when cognitive dissonance is screaming in your ear, but I loved serving the women and I hope to develop the same kind of love for the kiddos. 🙂

    Fortunately, I have a bishop who is something of a Mormon intellectual (just published in Dialogue, for example), so I have been open with him and he remains totally accepting of me. I am trying to prepare myself for the inevitability that when I get another bishop, things won’t be nearly so easy and I’ll be marginalized. As it is, I have to keep my “unorthodox” views largely to myself (though I try to slip them in as unthreateningly as possible whenever I get a chance).

    I don’t know how much help I could be, but I’d be happy to talk with you at any time about navigating this rocky road. Maybe you could give me some tips. 🙂

    And thanks Alex for your nice comment. You’re a great person too! 😉

    (A lot of emoticons in this comment apparently. Hahaha.)

  29. Tim,

    The thing that really bothers me about Mormons doing what you are describing is that Mormons rarely engage in the analysis and self-reflection to understand why they are setting their own terms and what the ramifications are both to themselves and the LDS church. Take the following examples of why people set their own terms.

    The first example of someone who sets their own terms I would call “copers.” Setting their own terms is an act of trying to negotiate the social realities of Mormonism while reducing cognitive dissonance to an acceptable level. Modifying the terms are their way of coping with the problems they see. One example of this is twisting the meaning of the temple recommend interview questions so that they mean things other than what the original authors meant by them. Of course a really sophisticated po-mo coper will go further and point out that we can’t really know what the original intent of the questions were so we are free to fill in the blanks as we see fit. The reason they do this is because Mormons must participate in temple ordinances, it’s a social reality of being Mormon. But what the copers rarely do is analyze what they have just done and why they have done it. Why did you have to change the meaning of the questions? What does that say about your self-honesty? What does that say about the social reality the church imposes that you feel forced to participate in something, honesty be damned?

    A second group I’ll call “truth-seekers.” These people also engage in changing the meaning of scripture, doctrine, and history, but not necessarily to social acceptance. Join any debate about the historicity of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham and you will see hordes of these types. Tapirs are horses, metal swords are really wood studded with obsidian, the facsimiles have some uber mystical meaning beyond that which Egyptologists can read. I could continue ad nauseum. My point is not to debate these issues but to ask why the truth seekers engage in this type of stuff. I think it’s obvious that they are trying to maintain their intellectual respectability and their testimonies that this is the one true church. But what’s the cost? What does it mean to defend Joseph Smith while simultaneously maintain that he got so much wrong, in some cases insisting that he didn’t know what he was doing? And how does changing the meaning of everything that your testimony once stood for defend it in any way? Doesn’t that deconstruct it from the inside out in a way a critic could never hope to achieve? What do you achieve by decontextualizing the Book of Abraham from its Egyptian setting, doesn’t that negate the whole point of a “translation” from ancient papyrus? I could go on and on and I am sure that most Mormons disagreed with everything I just said. But the final questions are the one I am interested in: If all of this truth seeking is so important why do you never bring it up in a church setting? Why do you teach straight from the manuals instead of sharing the truth as you see it? Why don’t you insist on discussing this stuff in Sunday School, you do think it’s true don’t you? And what does it say about the institution that forbids you from doing this?

    I won’t pretend to answer these questions for people who set their own terms, I just wish they would ask these questions of themselves. Maybe the do, but I see little evidence that is the case.

  30. Question:

    Can someone who does not believe nor support some of the fundamental doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church still be called Roman Catholic ?

    Such as.. “Oh I’m an RC, but don’t believe in the infallacy of the Pope” or “Oh I’m an RC, but don’t believe in Mary worship” or….

    IMHO: No… and that’s from personal experience.

    In Him
    Mick

  31. I seem to think that a lot of Catholics don’t believe in the RC Church’s stance on birth control. . . or maybe they just don’t have very high libido’s in Italy and France.

  32. There’s all kinds of people who identify as Catholic and atheist simultaneously, because they’re Catholic by culture and heritage but atheist intellectually.

    Just serve your mission in France and you’ll find that out.

  33. Thank you KatieL. 🙂

    I’m pretty sure the leadership calling my Bishop was going to extend was in the Relief Society Presidency since our RS President and all her counselors were released shortly after. Those were the only leadership callings given out since my interview.

    I wouldn’t have felt comfortable serving as a leader with my beliefs on Mormon Prophets/modern revelation/doctrine, so in some ways it’s a relief that I don’t have to deal with that. But at the same time I think there is much I could have offered that is greatly needed in the Ward. I’m kind of surprised at how hurt I felt after the interview because I knew what to expect after sharing what I did. As the Bishop launched into his testimony and said that there is no reason why I have to wait until I die to KNOW if the church is true, that God has given us all we need to know, etc. it was like watching a very predictable movie play out.

    Going to church as a New Order Mormon is quite an experience. As I sit quietly listening to all the comments in Gospel Doctrine and RS, it’s hard to believe I was ever one of them. I don’t say that in a snobby or pejorative sense, but only intend it to mean that I am so different now. There are times that it’s almost surreal. For example when they get going on topics like the pre existence war in heaven or Satan and the 1/3 host of heaven trying to tempt us with this sin or that sin, I feel like an outsider visiting a strange planet. (and I was born in the church)

    Katie, I really like what you posted here on this topic.

    This quote nailed it:
    “I think what you might be missing, Tim, is that Mormonism is more than a religion, but a distinct culture, a heritage, a way of being. I think John Dehlin has even said, “It’s in my DNA.”

    I’m not sure that outsiders can fully comprehend what that means (nor should they have to), but as a frame of reference, I would liken it more to Judaism than another Christian denomination.”

    I was thinking the same thing, and I notice how even outsiders will still refer to those raised in the church as Mormon even if they have left the religion completely, based on their heritage. Because of the culture, trying to find your identity apart from Mormonism would be a little like an Amish person who leaves their community. And I would imagine that an exAmish will still be referred to as Amish based on their heritage. I know that if I left the LDS church and joined another religion, my co workers would still view me as the Mormon girl.

  34. For most people religion is not about theology anyway. . . I would suggest that a minority really bothers with it at all.

    I would suggest that there is a higher percentage of “New Order” church goers in non-Mormon churches, it is just more of a novelty for the Mormons to have people go to church who aren’t “true” believers.

  35. Here is a question for Tim,

    If I am a pagan, or agnostic or universalist (or even a Mormon) who likes praise music, and likes talking to a pastor about my problems. . . likes the spirit of Christian services, likes hanging out with positive, happy people with certain standards. . .

    Are you going to dissuade me from being an active participant in RockHarbor because I am not being authentic, or because I am taking Evangelical Christianity on my own terms?

    If not I think its a bit strange to feel uneasy about agnostics who want to stay Mormon.

    And I think it is strange for believing Mormons to not want their non-believing family and friends to remain close to the community. I can’t see why we should worry so much about what people believe when it comes to being Christian “by their works” that we shall know them.

  36. “The thing that really bothers me about Mormons doing what you are describing is that Mormons rarely engage in the analysis and self-reflection to understand why they are setting their own terms and what the ramifications are both to themselves and the LDS church”

    I’m not sure how productive generalizations of this sort are to any discussion. As I understand it, tim is suggesting the only worthwhile paradigm is one is which there can be no fuziness concerning god. I assume the underlying rationale for this perspective is fixation on the merits of an evangelical paradigm. Technocratic paradigms are certainly one way to look at things. However I would suggest the flexibility of congregational swapping in some branches of Protestantism can be conceived of as reshaping god in one’s own image.

    As to the overall merits of reshaping, I think triangulation between our conceptions of religion and heavenly reality are unavoidable. Whether moves happen on an individual, congregational, or denominational level seems rather trite for the ultimate amount of triangulation likely to happen. Ultimately Christians approach god through some form of community. I think the trick to the whole process involves exploiting one’s paradigm to the fullest without ever losing site of the fact it will always need to change.

  37. I think the Mormon tendency to try and build upon any belief, besides being an endearing quality, fully supports Jared C’s comments.

  38. There are times that it’s almost surreal.

    Seven, I hear you there. I was in a stake training this evening, and as I sat and listened to all the comments — most of which were quite lovely and totally uncontroversial — I felt so weird, like I was a secret spy or outsider intruding, but no one knew it.

    It’s probably because we’d just had this conversation today, but it is a very strange experience at times.

    And I’m sorry the bishop didn’t give you a chance. From the comment you made over on my blog today, I think it’s clear you could have offered a lot in terms of a fresh perspective and a strong testimony of grace.

    The thing that really bothers me about Mormons doing what you are describing is that Mormons rarely engage in the analysis and self-reflection to understand why they are setting their own terms and what the ramifications are both to themselves and the LDS church.

    David, I think it’s more than a little presumptuous to assume what level of self-reflection New Order Mormons or StayLDSers or whatever engage in. Most of the people I know in this category do far more self-reflection than those who haven’t experienced the spiritual rug being pulled out from under them — simply because they’ve been forced to.

  39. Katie,

    It’s obvious I can’t know what other people are thinking. I am going by actions and what kinds of thoughts would naturally back those kinds of actions. In any case I invite you to dispel my presumptions by addressing the kinds questions I asked or by pointing me to samples of people who address them.

    As for self-reflection, it’s obvious that those who stumble upon the dirty laundry the church refuses to air do more reflection. They probably do more self reflection than those who remain naive. However, I can’t recall seeing the types of questions I asked ever being answered. Again, I welcome the opportunity for someone to disabuse me of this notion by addressing the questions or pointing out examples of where it has already been addressed.

    In any case I wasn’t really thinking about most of the NOMers. The vast majority of them are on their way out of the church, at least those that frequent the New Order Mormons forum.

  40. David,
    I don’t find that your generalizations match reality. The “truth-seeking” Latter-day Saints I know are, for the most part, very open about the conclusions they come to and the questions they have. There are at least a few religion professors at BYU who would be in this category, and I know many more students.

    It seems like you begin with the idea that if someone really were a truth-seeker, he or she would leave the LDS church (or want to), so you conclude from that that any real truth-seeker wouldn’t be open in a church context or teach from anything but the manuals. But that’s just not the case. And this is coming from someone who isn’t LDS and who very much believed a few years ago that what you’re saying is true. I’ve been proven wrong, time and time again.

    I’m sure there are people who match your generalizations. Maybe there are a lot of people who do. But there are a lot of people to don’t. Everything isn’t just one way.

  41. Sarah,

    The “truth-seekers” I mostly had in mind are the FARMS/FAIR types and their acolytes. I don’t know who your BYU religion professors are, but mine were highly orthodox Mormons. If your experience is better, great. Though I would caution you about one thing. Mormons tend to act and talk differently around non-LDS than they do around LDS. As an outsider you may be experiencing that.

    In any case these people (the “truth-seekers”) are open in the relative anonymity of the internet or when they feel comfortable to be open. However, at church or in official church capacities they all fall in line. To put it simply, in the chapel all Mormons act like chapel Mormons, even if they are internet Mormons.

    And, I am not assuming that people will leave the church. Take for instance a “truth-seeker” who comes to the conclusion that the catalyst theory for the origin of the Book of Abraham is correct. Do they ever teach a Sunday School lesson where they explain why the traditional translation explanation is incorrect but that the catalyst theory is correct? I’d venture to say it has rarely, if ever, happened.

    I would love to see the LDS church reformed from within, and the “truth-seekers” would be candidates for leading the charge. Again, I am not assuming that people will leave the church. My point is that truth should impel people to SOME kind of action, if it doesn’t, what’s the point?

  42. Sarah said:
    But you don’t believe Mormonism is true. Hence my point: why not leave it to Mormons to decide what is and isn’t allowed under the banner “Mormonism”?

    I confess that this post does not line up well with my previous thoughts and expressions on Mormonism. You’re right that it should mean nothing to me if Mormonism changes in what ever direction it wishes. But I am not one of those Evangelicals that would prefer to see more atheist and fewer Mormons. If Mormonism is on its way to becoming more humanistic or secularist, I don’t think that’s a positive shift.

    Perhaps what I’m responding to is something outside of Mormonism that has just happened to express itself within Mormonism. I don’t like hearing complaints that “X” isn’t the way someone wants it to be mixed with assertions that they’ll never leave even though they hate it and don’t expect change. I don’t understand the personal torture. Save yourself the agony.

  43. Jared said:
    If I am a pagan, or agnostic or universalist (or even a Mormon) who likes praise music, and likes talking to a pastor about my problems. . . likes the spirit of Christian services, likes hanging out with positive, happy people with certain standards. . .

    Are you going to dissuade me from being an active participant in RockHarbor because I am not being authentic, or because I am taking Evangelical Christianity on my own terms?

    No, I’m not going to dissuade them from attending ROCKHARBOR. But I also know that such a person isn’t going to hang out for very long without abandoning their paganism, agnosticism or universalism. At this very moment there are probably hundreds of such individuals sitting amongst our congregation that fit that description (as well as homosexuals, fornicators, adulterers, addicts and dead-beat-dads to name a few). All of them are welcome to attend for as long as they like and are invited into even deeper levels of community throughout the week.

    The thing is, my church is very clear about what we are calling people to. Such individuals are called to something different over and over again. People either accept that call, or they get uncomfortable and move on. If I happened to meet such an individual who was never going to accept the message, and in fact hated everything about the message and made it consistently known but still persisted in coming to my small group I would probably have a conversation with that person. I’d want to know whether or not they thought ROCKHARBOR was the best place for them. I’d want to know if they really thought their goals were being reached and if they felt satisfied in this community.

    I doubt such a person would like the forms of our religious expression so much that they’d be able to ignore the spirit and truths so loudly driving them. Just as I doubt I would be able to successfully sit in an LDS ward for very long.

  44. Sigo said:
    However I would suggest the flexibility of congregational swapping in some branches of Protestantism can be conceived of as reshaping god in one’s own image.

    I don’t disagree with that, in fact I’m probably advocating it. If you’re going to reshape God in your own image, at least do it somewhere where it is welcome.

  45. Tim,
    I’m sorry to keep harping on this point, but you’re touching on a topic that I’ve become pretty passionate about in recent years. I understand and share your desire not to see Mormonism become more humanistic, and if that’s the only place you’re coming from, I even admire your passion about it. I was upset last year when I learned that the Catholic church was offering indulgences again; anything that leads people farther from the truth is cause for concern, whether or not it’s within our own faith tradition. I think it would even be patronizing not to be concerned about things like that.

    The “if you don’t like it, leave” sentiment that you’ve been expressing, though, is part of what concerns me. There are aspects of popular evangelical culture/theology that I absolutely detest, that I believe are abhorrent to God. Does this mean I should stop being evangelical? Who is to say that the people who hold the beliefs I find abhorrent are the real evangelicals, and I am not? I think my theology does far more justice to the Bible and to evangelical fundamentals than theirs, but I am in the minority on many (if not most) topics I find myself discussing with fellow evangelicals. You seem to be operating from a paradigm that allows no room for dissenting voices within a faith tradition, which seems to me to be a far more dangerous and pressing problem than Mormonism turning into a secular humanist institution.

  46. Sarah,

    The difference is that you can continue to be an evangelical by attending a wide variety of churches. You can be an evangelical Anglican, an evangelical Baptist, a non-denominational evangelical, an emerging evangelical, etc.. Within the LDS Mormon church there’s only one place to go to be one.

  47. Aquinas (quoting me said)

    “There are often things they like about Mormonism, but they are typically things they have adopted into Mormonism not necessarily things unique to Mormonism.”

    In other words, even the good things that people see in Mormonism, aren’t indigenous to Mormonism, they must be brought from outside Mormonism and injected into it because Mormonism is devoid of anything redeeming in and of itself.

    No Aquinas, you’re not reading me correctly and you’re hoisting a view of Mormonism on me that I don’t have.

    I am not saying that there is nothing redeeming in Mormonism. I’m talking about people who remain in Mormonism though THEY express that they see little redeeming in it. What they do see as redeeming in Mormonism are things that don’t actually exist in Mormonism but things they have brought into their own personal image of Mormonism.

    The real problem with people self-identifying as Mormons is that it makes it very difficult for critics to engage in classical boundary maintenance. How can the critic claim that people should leave Mormonism, when so many people are offering viable alternative solutions for staying Mormon?

    I can’t deny that there is some “boundary maintenance” concerns expressed in my post. I think that’s a good observation. Please answer this question though. Do you think Atheistic-Mormonism is a valid alternative solution for staying Mormon? Should such an approach be encouraged and mimicked? Can no boundary be defined? I already know that you’re going to try to wiggle out and turn your answer into something about how destructive my question is to “genuine” interfaith dialogue, but I would appreciate a “yes” or “no” answer. Perhaps a “yes” answer exposes something I do not yet understand about Mormonism.

    Tim’s approach continues to be based on the premise that nothing good can come from Mormonism

    This is about the most offensive thing I think I have ever heard you say. I’m honestly quite upset that you choose to hold this view of me and ignore anything I might say that might contradict that assumption. Frankly it’s beneath you and it lowers my respect for you substantially. It’s these sorts of characterizations of me on your part that make me want to walk away from inter-faith dialogue and learning more about my Mormon friends entirely. If this is what I can expect from you in every conversation we have, I’m certain I’m not interested. I’m well aware that you think I have a lot to learn about what true inter-faith dialogue is but I think this statement shows that you have a lot to learn as well. Is it one of your tenets of inter-faith dialogue to continue to misconstrue the other person’s views to fit your image of them? I thought we were all trying to rise above that sort of thing.

    I’ve asked you quite consistently to give what I write some sort of charity, that it might not be quite so full of bile and venom as you think it is. The view you think I have of Mormonism is exactly the view I think you have of me. If you think I should change my attitude toward Mormonism in order to have a constructive relationship with it, I in the same vein think you need to change your attitude toward me. (The fact that you have chosen to ignore without reply any form of offline friendship I have attempted to extend to you only reinforces my suspicion that you’re content believing the press you write for me.)

    My philosophy of interfaith dialogue is premised in the belief that we should compare good qualities in our own faiths

    If anything this post was an expression of a shared quality that Evangelicals and Mormons believe their faith should be centered around belief rather than disbelief.

    Now, one of the problems with this approach is that it requires someone to see the good in Mormonism, even alternative venues. Those who are so constituted that this is impossible for them to do, simply won’t be be able to avail themselves of this approach.

    Thanks for saying it with more subtly this time, though it still carries the same offense.

    This dovetails with Tim’s previously stated view that true Christians can serendipitously be found in the LDS Church for a time, but they will eventually leave.

    I see that statement continues to be a burr under your saddle. I don’t know why it should bother you so much. I’ve stated my view that Joseph Smith is a false prophet. Is it your opinion that true Christians being properly discipled and led by the Holy Spirit can continue to follow false prophets? Would expect someone like that to continue to be indefinitely deceived by falsehood and not be able to identify a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Similarly I don’t expect such a person could go on indefinitely denying a true prophet.

    I rather doubt any of the Evangelicals that you do have respect for have a different view than my own.

  48. Sarah said
    I find myself discussing with fellow evangelicals. You seem to be operating from a paradigm that allows no room for dissenting voices within a faith tradition

    Thanks for allowing me to clarify (as I’m trying to sort it out for myself even). I think what I’m operating from is a paradigm that doesn’t leave room for “disbelieving” voices rather than dissenting voices.

  49. Pingback: Why would you “stayLDS”? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  50. Eric, Jared and Jack,

    I wasn’t asking on whether there are RC’s you know who don’t agree with the doctrines, or consider themselves atheist or worship Mary. I know they exist, I lived there for 30 years and I only need to look at my family across the pond to know that they still consider themselves RC’s but don’t practice or believe in the RC doctrines anymore.

    Question is should we ? Can I be a protestant yet believe in let’s say the pre-creation Satan war doctrine ? Or the infallacy of the Pope ? Or the modern revelation of the Prophet ?

    You’d say I’m drifting to the verges. You’d say I’m putting things into Protestantism that were never there.

    Question is how much you can take out of a faith denomination before it’s no longer being able to be called that denomination. What’s the “Sine Qua Non” of a denomination ? And if the StayLDS are messing with that, can they still be called LDS ?

    I do concur someone can be called “Mormon” considering heritage, background, etc.. yet not be “LDS”, which to me is more related to the Church.

    Is that a difference that we’re missing ? Or am I missing something ? Does Mormon equate that strongly with LDS ?

    Mick

  51. David Clark

    I concur.. the reason being that we haven’t figured out what exactly the non-negotiables of Evangelicalism are. Regardless of the manifesto and stuff.

    Ask 10 people, you get 10 different answers. Hence we’re everywhere 😉

    Mick

  52. Tim:

    I am not saying that there is nothing redeeming in Mormonism. I’m talking about people who remain in Mormonism though THEY express that they see little redeeming in it. What they do see as redeeming in Mormonism are things that don’t actually exist in Mormonism but things they have brought into their own personal image of Mormonism.

    This is what I’m seeing.

    “I am not saying there is nothing redeeming in Mormonism. (…) What they do see as redeeming in Mormonism are things that don’t actually exist in Mormonism but things they have brought into their own personal image of Mormonism.”

    Now, when you say this, you are making a call about what “actually exists in Mormonism.” See, you offset this by saying, “No, I’m not talking about ME. I’m talking about people who remain in Mormonism and what THEY express.” However, your point in this topic is to take a PERSONAL STANCE that this “personal image of Mormonism” is not the legitimate determinant of what actually exists in Mormonism.

    So, what “actually exists in Mormonism” has nothing redeeming to it. People who try to say that it does are, according to you, bring their own personal image of Mormonism in an illegitimate way. What could be considered redeeming is not actually existent in Mormonism, but brought (illegitimately) from the outside.

    So, I don’t see why you should find offense with what aquinas has said or be upset. That is the implication of what you’re saying.

    I probably should run very very very far away now, and in fact, I think I will, but I’m not sure after plenty of posts and comments that *anyone* is really about inter-faith dialogue in the first place. Perhaps it’s not even consistent with the positions that each of us take. So, in the end, all of this talk about wanting to walk away seems rather expectable in light of the discussion that goes on.

  53. Andrew, thank you for explaining how what i said could be taken to mean that I don’t see anything redeeming in Mormonism. I assure you, Aquinas was taking that position before I wrote this post.

    Let me take that same quote you emphasized above and emphasize it as I meant it.

    “What they do see as redeeming in Mormonism are things that don’t actually exist in Mormonism but things they have brought into their own personal image of Mormonism.”

    please HELP ME. How does this infer that I do not think there is anything redeeming in Mormonism?

  54. Tim:
    Thanks for allowing me to clarify (as I’m trying to sort it out for myself even). I think what I’m operating from is a paradigm that doesn’t leave room for “disbelieving” voices rather than dissenting voices.

    I love that you’re trying to sort this out. I wish more people would wrestle with these issues.

    I don’t know how you can say who is “believing” and who is “disbelieving.” I know Mormons who believe polygamy was always wrong, who believe prophets are somewhat regularly wrong on doctrinal issues, who see the LDS church as one “true church” among many, etc. You can make the case that those people are not “believing,” but who are you to make that call? You cannot define Mormonism.

    This seems to me what Andrew’s issue is with what you’ve said: you have a picture of Mormonism in your mind that you think is Mormonism, and whatever diverges from that is therefore not Mormon. By saying that the things people bring into Mormonism that they like are not actually present within Mormonism, you’re making a truth claim about what is and isn’t there, and it’s just not your call to make.

  55. Tim,

    You’re using “they” as a way to mask your opinion about Mormonism. The problem is, as you’ve exposed several times on this site (this latest article is *just* the latest), you have personal positions about Mormonism and what is “legitimate” to Mormonism already. These positions, as aquinas and Saray Taylor point out, lets you target your idea of what is “legitimately Mormon” as illegitimately Christian.

    But how can we show that this is what you believe and not what they believe? Well, for example, “they” obviously believe that their new order/middle way/stayLDS approach can actually exist and be found within Mormonism. (Jello, wall, etc.,) It is not “they” who reject their own approach as illegitimate. It is you. So, when you’re talking about what they find redeeming in Mormonism, but then you express your position that they are simply introducing things foreign to Mormonism and that these supposedly redeeming things don’t “actually exist” within Mormonism, it is really easy to see that that is your position, not theirs.

    When aquinas talks about discussing shared good qualities, you say that you are doing that…You say this post *is* an expression of such a shared quality. But the only quality you can seem to drum up is “that faith should be centered around belief.” Of course, since you already believe that Mormons believe the wrong things, this is an extremely slight concession.

    I don’t even come to this site that often (much less than aquinas), and even from my limited visits, I can see you have an immensely poor view of Mormons, probably only outmatched by an immensely poor view of atheists, or of atheistic/humanistic Mormons. Whatever interfaith dialogue means, I get the sneaking suspicion that the goal is to have everyone become awesome evangelicals. So, I see at least an appearance or an attempt at civility, but I am left pondering how much of it is just to avoid burning bridges in the ultimate goal of having everyone become “awesome evangelicals.”

    Now, you may say this is offensive. You may say this upsets you. You may say I’m against you and aquinas is against you and we really don’t get what interfaith dialogue is about. OK, fine. Don’t know how to help you there, but I can say that it won’t make anyone any closer to being awesome evangelicals.

    The problem is I don’t think I can blame you for this position even if you do take it (or even if you deny it). I suspect this is necessary for your position and necessary for your “Great Commission.” So perhaps interfaith dialogue itself is folly. Perhaps if the best thing you can say is that “Mormons and evangelicals both believe faith to be centered around belief,” (with a possible hope that you can change the content of that belief), then that’s the best thing there is.

  56. I can summarize my comments even more, actually.

    What do THEY see vs. what do YOU see.

    “What they do see as redeeming in Mormonism are things that don’t actually exist in Mormonism but things they have brought into their own personal image of Mormonism.”

    What THEY do see as redeeming IN MORMONISM, they see as being IN MORMONISM. Otherwise, they wouldn’t see it as redeeming in Mormonism.

    As soon as you get past that part of the sentence, to conjecture that these things ‘don’t actually exist in Mormonism,’ you are introducing some third-party measurement of what is within or outside of Mormonism. Obviously, “they” can’t be the measurers, because they have already determined the things in questioned to be redeeming in Mormonism.

  57. Tim,

    Maybe you’ve made a post about it, and I just haven’t stumbled upon it yet. I readily admit that I have not read everything that has been posted on this blog. Heck, I haven’t even read everything that has been recently posted. Time limits me.

    However, of the things you have posted, particularly about your views of Mormonism, I have seen the following that indicate to met that Andrew and aquinas have a valid reason for saying you see nothing redeeming about Mormonism:
    1) you don’t believe Mormons are Christians
    2) you don’t believe Mormon marriages are, in the long-run (i.e. past this life) of any value
    3) you believe the LDS missionary program is a breeding ground for abuse
    4) you don’t believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet
    5) you don’t accept the Book of Mormon as Scripture
    6) you believe that the things people say are redeeming about Mormonism are not actually a part of Mormonism
    7) you believe that all Mormons should leave the LDS church and become Evangelicals

    So, just based on that short list, what, exactly, do you find redeeming about the LDS Church and/or the Mormon faith?

  58. Alex,

    You’re kidding right ? If anyone disagrees with those 7 things above, they’d be a member of the LDS Church !

    And I don’t think Tim is a member of the LDS Church. 😉

    Mick

  59. Alex said:
    you believe that the things people say are redeeming about Mormonism are not actually a part of Mormonism

    I don’t know how to restate this so that I could be more clearly understood. I believe there are a great many redeeming things about Mormonism.

    In reference to “secular/humanist/agnostic/atheistic/New Order Mormons”, I find that the things THEY find redeeming about Mormonism are not actually native to Mormonism.

    Excuse me while I go bang my head against a new wall.

    Sarah said
    You can make the case that those people are not “believing,” but who are you to make that call? You cannot define Mormonism.

    You are absolutely right. I can not define Mormonism. I can not define LDSism either. I’m not asking to. I’m suggesting that LDS who don’t believe in LDSism might find that they are happier elsewhere. I’m not asking for a purge or any kind of witch hunt against unbelievers. People are free to remain LDS as long as the LDS church will have them.

    BUT my understanding of LDSism is that a major one of its tenets is that it is defined by its scriptures and its Prophets and Apostles. If someone doesn’t believe the scriptures are true and they don’t believe the Prophets and Apostles are true prophets and apostles, I think they’ve just, by definition, disavowed themselves of LDSism.

    It’s a bit like saying that you believe in Papal Infallibility but that doesn’t mean that you think the pope is infallible.

  60. Actually, my understanding was that the Catholic notion of papal infallibility is heavily qualified and nuanced.

    So that probably isn’t the best analogy for you.

  61. Mick,

    I’m not following you. I provided a list of things that Tim believes (and doesn’t believe), as I have understood him. I have met non-LDS people who believe some of the things I mentioned. (For example, there are many, many, many non-LDS folks who believe Mormons are Christians.)

    Perhaps a post in the future could outline some of the things that Tim finds admirable about the LDS church (that “holy envy” that aquinas has spoken of). This would certainly help overcome this idea that quite a few of us have developed that Tim doesn’t like anything we have to offer. (In exchange, I’d be more than happy to provide a guest post on the things that I find admirable about the Evangelical community.)

  62. 1) you don’t believe Mormons are Christians
    2) you don’t believe Mormon marriages are, in the long-run (i.e. past this life) of any value
    3) you believe the LDS missionary program is a breeding ground for abuse
    4) you don’t believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet
    5) you don’t accept the Book of Mormon as Scripture
    6) you believe that the things people say are redeeming about Mormonism are not actually a part of Mormonism
    7) you believe that all Mormons should leave the LDS church and become Evangelicals

    Hmmm, Alex. With the exception of the Mormon/Christian thing, the missionary abuse thing, and the no redeeming parts of Mormonism thing, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect any evangelical Christian to think anything else than what’s on this list.

    You could debate those three issues, but I don’t know why we’d expect an evangelical to accept our eternal marriages or Joseph Smith, for example.

  63. . . .or accept the Book of Mormon as scripture.

    not to mention that I didn’t say the Missionary program IS a breeding ground for abuse but rahter has the potential to be the breeding ground of abuse.

  64. I’m not understanding why some are offended and reading so much into this quote:

    “There are often things they like about Mormonism, but they are typically things they have adopted into Mormonism not necessarily things unique to Mormonism.”

    I didn’t interpret him to mean there is nothing redeeming in Mormonism. As a New Order Mormon, the LDS teachings I do support are not unique to the church. I could find them in most Christian church’s because they are Bible based. For Tim to be saying there is nothing redeeming in the church, then he would be disparaging his own Christian values that are taught there.

    There are also non doctrinal reasons I stay LDS. I love the organization of Ward families (especially in times of crisis) I love the focus on family values and the youth programs. And I was lucky to find an LDS husband who loves the gospel and respects our marriage. I have to give the church some credit for the incredible man he is.

    I’ve always found Tim’s blog to be pretty respectful of Mormon beliefs or I wouldn’t be reading it. Obviously as a Christian he is not going to believe in eternal marriage, or Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, etc.
    As others mentioned, if he believed in any one of those things, he’d be a Mormon.

  65. Seth

    Threading dangerous ice there 😉

    It is a good analogy. Google this: Lumen Gentium 25. Then read articles 41 through 43. I’d copy-paste it here, but may be too long. Note this is Vatican II in 1964.

    The difference is that the RC has started to qualify the in virtue of his office statement to indicate that it only applies when the Pope makes a statement Ex Cathedra meaning from the pontiff’s seat. It allows the RC a way out to say that the Pope doesn’t always speak from the virtue of his office. But that’s a relatively recent development.

    What’s sad is that a lot of current RC’s don’t even realize or know this. Jared C made a comment earlier that for most people religion is not about theology anyway. . . I would suggest that a minority really bothers with it at all. And it’s sad… but very true

    Carry on. 😉

    Mick

  66. Aquinas and Andrew, I think the main problem here is how the critique was personalized to Tim.

    I don’t particularly mind if you have some insights into how Tim’s posts and statements lead to a certain outcome and result. But the problem was that certain MOTIVES were ascribed to Tim – as if he personally, in some underhanded and sneaky manner, intended all the negative results you are describing. I don’t think this tack was all that useful or helpful.

    Isn’t it enough to point out the effects of a line of argument without resorting to “you did that on purpose!”?

  67. Mick,

    I am actually happy that religion/spirituality is less about theology for most people, its practically the only way its tolerable.

  68. Now it is my turn to jump on the “I should have clarified better what I meant” bandwagon.

    I have Evangelical friends who accept Mormons as Christian, recognise the value of LDS marriages as being eternal because they, themselves, believe marriages are eternal anyway, find a lot of good in the missionary program (which, okay, I’ll accept that Tim claims it is only a potential breeding ground, but one whose potential seems rather great from what’s written on the matter), accept that Joseph Smith could have been a true prophet, but then fell from his calling, think the Book of Mormon could at least be inspired writing, and don’t feel that Mormons should all be Evangelicals, since Mormons are Christians anyway.

    Admittedly, these are very broad-minded friends, who are willing to accept/acknowledge a lot of things that others wouldn’t. And I don’t think that any of them agree with or hold all of the positions listed, but I have at least one friend who holds at least one of them.

    My main point, though, was that even if you don’t agree with the teachings, you can see how they are beneficial to those who do believe them, and you can find that admirable. This gets to the finding something redeeming issue. And yes, I realise that there are many other aspects of LDS theology and Mormon culture that were not listed. I had just thrown together a quick list of some of the issues I have seen Tim write about.

  69. In light of the original post, an implict question revolves around whether faith (and hence saving Christianity) must be based on an unshakeable base.  As I understand it,Tim’s anxiety is that this essential facet is being eroded for nothing of redeemable value.  I assume growth in and of itself is characterized by Tim as nice but certainly not redeemable.

    Obviously opinions differ.  If one assumes ultimate truth is perspective invariant, Tim’s position is easier to understand.  If one assumes all truth is relative, the NOM position is understandable.  However, I think the foundational questions go well beyond typical post-modern truth claims: the debate touches on whether a “perfect” object like god can be reached in a state where core beliefs and knowldge can still face (potentially) radical revisions.  I assume the paradigm from which this post was written rejects this possiblity. 

    In that light let me throw out some things that temper problems with techoncratic based belief structures.
    -mormon’s have a paradigm that makes it easy to view God as “perfect”, but still increasing.  While it may be heretical for many to assume god can’t evolve, since we will never catch up to him, how will we ever know if he is changing or we are just discovering additional details about his being?
    -some people are fine with a scientific approach: where things are never certain, just highly probable.
    -the iron rod of redemptive belief may incorporate uncertianty as a removeable but essential condition/attribute.
    -god actually is changing and can only be known through perpectives that change in a manner analgous to whatever way he is changing/increasing
    -Mormon perspectives about dispensations make us quite comfortable with the potential for radical change.  It just happens that a prophet is often seen as the one leading or empowered as the legitimate change officer.    

  70. I assume growth in and of itself is characterized by Tim as nice but certainly not redeemable.

    That’s a radical overstatement (or perhaps misstatement). I believe all people and situations are redeemable. Redemption is one of the strongest themes in the Bible (and my own life).

    I don’t think personal faith is a matter of developing an unshakable base. I think doubt can be both a powerful tool and a powerful expression of faith. I reject that faith is the opposite of doubt.

    My anxiety stems from people who don’t just have doubts seeking to redefine a religion, but from people who are solidly disbelieving seeking to redefine a religion.

  71. Thanks for the reply Tim. I take the position that disbelief can be considered growth albeit in a different direction than faith. Therfore an atheist is growing even though the probability they will accept redemption by Christ is tending to zero. While redemption is always possible (for most Christians in this life, and for Mormons a while into the here-after), I hope we would both agree that certain directions on average are less likely to be traditionally redemptive than others.

    I think we would also both agree that faith is not the opposite of doubt. One area of difference expressed in this thread is whether faith has to be based in god? I hear the disbelievers you mention saying no. I am fine with that, but i presume not everyone thinks this is good, especially when expressed within a faith tradition. I guess I just don’t see much of a difference between the believing redefining a religion, the doubtful doing so and the actively disbelieving doing so. But then again I think transformation is inevitable, the only real difference is in the degree and rate of transparency in the process.

  72. The problem with implying that peopel can define a religion however they individually want is that religion is not merely individualistic. It is a community-affair, and in more ways than one. And the more focus a community-religion puts on its own institution, the more intimately relevant the institution and its teachings (definitions) become.

    Definitions impact people beyond the mere individual. Striving for definitional clarity and consistency is an essential part of integrity. The heart-desire for integrity is an essential part of repentance.

    What Jesus wants out of the whole world is radical repentance. He wants us to renounce sin and error and needless ambiguity and unwarranted ambivalence and cry out for mercy and truth and available clarity. The reason I can’t acquiesce to definition-anarchy is because I can’t in good conscience condone people lying to themselves, nor can I condone people shirking their social responsibility to pursue truth and clarity.

    Sarah, one reason you shouldn’t reduce religions to mere cultures is because they make metacultural truth-claims. Thus, the reduction is belittling and insulting (however unintentional).

    Take care,

    Aaron

  73. One ironic postmodern-friendly reason that definition-anarchy shouldn’t be acquiesced to is because it presumes that we are outside of history, standing above it, looking down as through we are independent of any consequences of it.

    But language is historical: how we communicate today has been shaped by thousands of years of human history. Indeed, language wouldn’t make sense in the present if we didn’t have a personal and community history.

    A better sense of history gives us a better understanding of self-identity. Precisely because we are in the stream of history, affected by it along with the rest of humanity, we should at least humbly respect historical meanings that shape us and the people around us. Challenging the definition of a word is not without its consequences. It has the potential to either cloud our sense of history and self-identity, or clarify it.

    So it’s not a game. A lot is at stake. What I pray for in Utah is the kind of repentance that says, “Jesus Christ has changed my life so radically, and he matters so much to me, that not only do old things have new meaning for me, but I need a new set of words to help people understand what has happened, who I serve, and what identity I have.”

  74. “Striving for definitional clarity and consistency is an essential part of integrity.” – Aaron

    I think this is where view points probably differ. This seems to assume it is possible to create clear, precise definitions (the caveat “striving” is recognized). I would also hazard it supposes more precise levels of clarity are always valuable. I tend to take the view that religion is like a complex system: definitions can be created but the system can’t be fully framed. Thus definitions are more about probably states and best wishes than actual accuracy. I really like Stuart Kauffman’s take on the fallibility of reductionism and overextension of rationality.

    “He wants us to renounce sin and error and needless ambiguity and unwarranted ambivalence and cry out for mercy and truth and available clarity.” -Aaron

    I am not so sure over precision isn’t just as much a problem as lack of precision. The ideal state seems to be one whose ambiguity matches the probabilities people feel comfortable accepting over intended time frames. To put it simpler, error and ambiguity seem like fundamental aspects to the universe. Why do we need to define a God who supercedes this reality? So, I think part of the question is whether God expects us to supersede ambiguity or come to an appropriate balance with it?

  75. I would just add, as obvious as it is, different religious traditions have different balances between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Within any religious tradition there are lots of spandreled counter-weights for any perceived imbalance, over-emphasis, or nascent changes.

  76. “He wants us to renounce sin and error and needless ambiguity and unwarranted ambivalence and cry out for mercy and truth and available clarity.”

    Not entirely sure I agree on that point. Certainty is a locked door. A dead end. Religious failure.

  77. It is mere logic that when you reach the point of certainty, you are at an end.

    This notion of terminality that seems to pervade so much of American religious observance is abhorrent to me.

  78. But Seth, we’ve been taught by Green Day Semisonic in their infinite wisdom that “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

    Besides, with all the “I know this church is true” and “having your calling and election made sure” stuff that goes on in Mormonism, I really don’t think of it as the religion of uncertainty.

  79. Who said anything about Mormonism Jack?

    Aaron, hopefully I just shared a bit of “truth” with you. Open-ended-ness can be a beautiful thing.

  80. It’s probably just my perpetually doubting heart, but I can’t understand how anyone says they’re 100% certain of anything when it comes to matters spiritual.

    Isn’t that what faith is all about?

  81. I would hazard that truth is that which is neither over or understated.

    I would also suspect that truth cannot be separated from the time frame over which it is being interpreted and applied.

    You can have certainty that there will be a certain amount of vagueness. I think Mormonism recent origin forces people to confront this, in varying degrees of course. There is a great deal of confidence in the path, but Mormonism, more than many religions forces the dark glass of humanity into almost all of its equations. That is something I personally appreciate, but accept that not everyone does.

  82. Pingback: What is Interfaith Dialogue? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  83. It seems to me that all people make their religion in their own image. Some of us acknowledge this, admitting that God is beyond our grasp. Others confuse their constructed image of God with “the truth” and try to impose it on their fellow man (by persuasion or by violence). The first camp tends to produce people who are good at expressing love and avoiding judgment. The second produces people who are good at reinterpreting love so that they can justify their dislike of (or dissatisfaction with) those who do not agree with them: they want to reduce virtue to a credo. The more I think about the situation, the more I like the solution that lays intellectual definitions of deity aside, making ethical conduct the defining aspect of religion in place of intellectual orientation. If you know how to love your fellow man, if you can empathize with him and live at peace with him and yourself, does it really matter what specific rituals you have performed over the course of your life (for Mormons) or what specific credos you have uttered (for Evangelicals)? Not in my book, and I actually think Jesus might agree with me (at least some of the time: remember the parable of the Good Samaritan).

  84. Interesting discussion.

    Curiously, I believe that collective reality is a myth.

    Translation: whether we are talking religious affiliation, political party affiliation or anything else, still a group is formed of individuals & therefore, each will have his own self-concept, identity & unique way to perceive everything.

    Therefore, whether they take upon themselves certain identities or labels, or other’s get to decide which one’s to assign, still it is an exercise in futility since what the heck do we know about each person’s view, experience, concepts & feelings.

    Sure, anyone can devise a criterium he thinks is fair and maybe even conduct tests to determine which are believers, which should remain affiliated as opposed to renouncing memberships, and stopping identifying selves with a label that does not seem to fit.

    But we are talking apples an oranges when we compare what people’s beliefs, feelings and experiences are.

    Sure, we may all use the same language (at least we think we do), but when two people look at the color blue, they may both call it blue, but who knows what each actually sees?

    Mormonism (the hyerarchy, corp aspect) heavily relies on military style leadership, stressing things such as uniformity worldwide, expectations of full compliance by every member, Etc …

    Ironically, Mormon doctrine is heavily based on God given individual rights to free-agency.

    Thus, this is how big the Mormon umbrella is, even though I am the first to admitt that those blind by the mist of cultish dysfunction do all they can to try to push as many broad minded Mormons off into the rain.

    But it is impossible to push folks with identity boundaries.

    Frankly, had I been that guy on the bishop’s office being interviewed, I would have no qualms deciding for myself if I were apt, willing & capable of doing the job (with regards to the calling), rather than yielding to the guy behind the desk (a stranger) because he had a tittle over me. To me that kind of blind submission to another human’s judgement over one’s own, amounts to living according to someone else’s conscience.

    So, it is not so much about lieing to church leaders by omission, but about deciding where our soul’s skin should be.

    I honestly don’t think any other human being should have the right to question me about my feelings about Deity, least decide whether I am worthy or not to do anything.

    I think that as human beings & individuals we are all on the same plane, so it is incredibly innappropriate not to mention unhealthy to grant any one person full access (& full disclosure) to our inner most selves.

    Btw, I am a Mormon.

    ;O)~

  85. Tim, I realy LIKE your uneasiness with NOM’s. It plays right into my style of apologetics.

    I realize your thesis is more along the lines of “Go ahead, be a NOM, but just don’t call yourself ‘Mormon.'” But I see a bigger pattern of “protestant-izing.”

    In my opinion, NOM’s are doing to Mormonism what you Protestants did to Christianity (Catholicism) in the Reformation, and what Catholics did to 2nd and 3rd century Christianity, and what 2nd and 3rd century Christians did to 1st century apostolic Christianity. Each group successively remade Christianity into it’s own image.

    The 2nd and 3rd century christians added Greek philosophy to the mix, and (what became) the Catholic church added in the state among other things.

    And it didn’t end with Luther, or with the Church of England. There have been successive split-offs, each discarding things or adding things along the way.

    (Granted, one could distinguish “reforming from within” versus “reforming by starting a new organization”, but that’s trivial to my overall point.)

    I disagree with NOMs; I accept the miraculous foundational claims of the LDS church. I disagree with what they’re doing. They’re “protestant-izing” (or trying to) the mother church.

    But don’t you think that Protestants have done the same thing since the Reformation? Didn’t Luther try to reform the Catholic church from within first?

    Dude, you’re in the same boat. Protestants were the original NOMs. In whatever manner you condemn or praise them, you’re condemning or praising the genealogy/descendency/legitimacy of your own faith tradition.

    And moreover, unless you go back prior to the creeds of the 4th century, you’re still in the same boat.

    Joseph Smith either had to be a true prophet of God or an evil genius. He didn’t play the “protestantizing” or “reformation” game. But rather, he claimed that the LDS restoration was Jesus Christ himself coming back with the 1st presidency (Peter, James, John) and starting from scratch! A “do over”. No reform, or derivative, or make-over of, or using a template from an existing organization. No ties or descendency or linkage to any organization of humans then in existance on earth at the time.

    In the LDS paradigm, I see God’s pattern of how he uses authority as exemplified in the Old and New Testaments. As I understand the biblical example, any legitimate change in God’s organization on earth had to come from the top down.

    I think it was Wesley, or one of his contemporaries, who said something along the lines of: “We know we don’t have divine authority for doing what we’re doing, but we’re just doing what we think is right, in sincerety and good faith, until the Lord sends new apostles or prophets.” (That’s a paraphrase from memory, not an exact quote.)

    I’ll grant that Luther and the other reformers realized “the train had gotten off track” and made good-faith best-efforts to do what they thought was right. But a lot of “protestant-izing” since then seems to fall more under the “itching ears” category of vanity and trendy worldliness.

    Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s