It’s been a rather hot topic on this blog recently if “Internet Mormonism” exists and whether or not it conflicts with “Chapel Mormonism”. I’m beginning to see “Internet Mormon” as the new pejorative equaling “Anti-Mormon” in tone, intent and offense.
As I was thinking about the distinctions between the Internet and the Chapel my mind wandered to the differences between Protestants who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and Protestants who believe in the infallibility of the Bible. I would probably describe myself as believing in inerrancy. But if I were described as an “Inerrancist” by someone else I’d probably want to know what she meant by that. My belief in inerrancy is highly qualified and shouldn’t ever be classified with Biblical-literalism. If I were being asked to defend the Old Testament formula for Pi I might default to a position of infallibility to avoid a long nuanced explanation of my belief in inerrancy.
Moving the discussion back into Mormonism; there’s a joke that states “Catholics say that the Pope is infallible, but no one believes it. Mormons say their prophet is fallible, but no one believes it.”
The main dividing line between Internet Mormons and Chapel Mormons is how they view the prophets. Chapel Mormons view the prophets as authoritative mouthpieces of God who give modern revelation that members of the church should listen to and obey. A representative view of the prophets, from the viewpoint of an Internet Mormon, was articulated by none other than yourself on this blog when you said:
“What I do not have a particular testimony of is whether Thomas S. Monson is absolutely authoritative in overruling any of that, or interpreting it for me.
I basically view most modern General Authorities as highly persuasive commentary on Joseph Smith and the scriptures and little else. Other than that, I concede their mandate to run the Church and have no desire to challenge them in this role.”
In other words, what a prophet says is not authoritative nor binding on the members of the church.
I think it’s a mistake to view the “Internet” and the “Chapel” as locations when discussing Internet and Chapel Mormonism. Many will say “I’m in the chapel every week” or “I know other people in the chapel who think like I do but never interact online.” Instead it might be more helpful to think of the “internet” and the “chapel” as sources of information.
Mormons who gain their understanding of Mormonism exclusively from the chapel will be more likely to contend that the LDS Prophet can not and has not ever lead the church astray in any doctrinal teaching. Those Mormons function with a belief in prophetic infallibility. But when those same Mormons encounter information (e.g. The Adam-God Doctrine, most certainly taught by Brigham Young as authoritative doctrine) from outside-the-chapel sources like the internet, they default to “Internet Mormonism”. A belief that LDS authorities are useful guides but not necessarily binding arbiters of doctrine or truth.
When later Mormon leaders disavowed the Adam-God doctrine they effectively smashed the idea that a prophet could not lead the faithful astray. “Internet Mormons” are those who understand/believe/practice their faith with this kind of understanding. They reject the idea that a living prophet is more vital than the standard works. Ezra Taft Benson and any who reinforce the “14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” are “Chapel Mormons” and have not been exposed to information/understanding to sufficiently dissuade them from the idea that prophets are fallible and have never been in error whether the topic is earrings or the nature of God.