Mormonism Demystified

I listened to a recent podcast at On Being, by Krista Tippett. She interviews religious thinkers of every stripe. I like Tippett, definitely on the happy liberal unitarian side, but positive and fair.  In 2008 she interviewed conservative Mormon apologist Robert Millet (Audio /Transcript).

In the wake of the Romney-Jeffress discussion over Mormonism, seeking a less “orthodox” voice she interviewed Joanna Brooks. (Audio/Transcript)

Tippet described Mormonism and how she sees Brooks as a good representative:

“A highly disciplined, highly effective frontier culture grows up and migrates back out into centers of power. It’s a classic American story. But there’s also some kind of religious and cultural coming of age here, for Mormons and the rest of us.

I couldn’t have found a better person than Joanna Brooks to shed some distinctively informative, candid, and meaningful light on it all. She’s a literature scholar and a journalist. HerAsk Mormon Girl blog and Twitter feed is a remarkably reflective, compassionate community of questioning with Mormons of many stripes.
And Ask Mormon Girl, as she notes on her website, is housed on the “legendary Feminist Mormon Housewives blog.” That is just one of many things that does not meet the traditional American eye on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — but which we engage through the voice and life of Joanna Brooks.

I thought Brook’s perspective was a refreshing alternative to apologists like Millet’s.    I find her as a good example of one who remains faithful to Mormonism despite serious problems with the way the Church represents its ideals.  Mormonism with its authoritarian structure stuck on top of a very expansive, revolutionary, and often undeveloped view of the world has produced many who live the faith while dealing with many internal contradictions.

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62 thoughts on “Mormonism Demystified

  1. Joanna is able to speak candidly and positively because she both identifies with the faith and distances herself from the faith. She’s an inside-outsider

    I too think it was a good interview, I think the Millet interview would have been better if Tippet had been as courageous in her questions with Millett as she was with Brooks.

    My main beef with the interview (and I shared this with Ms. Brooks) was her claim that she was surrounded by anti-Mormonism. I’m quite familiar with the churches she is specifically talking about. I don’t endorse what they were doing at the time, but if an Evangelical teenager had attended Brook’s home ward they too would have heard how broken and inconsistent their faith was with “true” Christianity, how their version of Jesus didn’t measure up to the authentic portrait of Christ. While a Presbyterian pastor was waving Mormon garments around, Mormons were attending their most sacred ceremony where a Protestant minister was portrayed to be a tool of Satan. The polemics were/are bad on both sides of the aisle. The only thing that caused Ms. Brooks to view it as persecution was her residence in Southern California rather than Utah. To call it Anti-Mormonism but not recognize the Ant-Protestantism in her own congregation misses the typical self-reflection that I think makes Ms. Brooks a qualified representative.

  2. Good comment, Tim, and important point about the nasty polemics on both sides.

    I really enjoyed this podcast and have a lot of respect for Joanna Brooks. (I even met her once — she’s as nice in person as she seems.) 🙂

    Total nitpick about your characterization of her as an “inside-outsider.” She’s on the margins in terms of orthodoxy, it’s true, but she’s solidly and unashamedly Mormon. I’d call her an “outside-insider” — in other words, “insider” is the noun and “outside” is the qualifier: she’s an insider because of her upbringing, beliefs, and self-identification, but is closer to the outside edges of the community boundaries than someone like, say, Millet.

    I’ve always thought of someone like Jack as an inside-outsider. She’s got tremendous inside knowledge, experience, and understanding of Mormons and Mormonism, but she is an “outsider” in terms of her self-identification and belief system.

  3. I’ll leave it to the professional writer to figure it out. Maybe I’ll draw a picture to show how she and Dehlin are and are not Mormons and Mormons are and are not Christians.

  4. Tippett is definitely a feel-good interviewer, out to let people explain themselves rather than call people to the carpet. It was easier to challenge Brooks because Brooks challenges LDS positions in her own right and the dialogue wouldn’t seem directly confrontational.

  5. Tim, that would be funny/interesting. 🙂

    I would add that in my mind Joanna is more “insider” than John Dehlin at this point, because to my understanding she is active, has a calling, and believes in God (even if in a liberal, postmoderny way), while John seems to have gone to partial activity and agnosticism.

    I also think she has a lighter, more dextrous touch with the issues than John, but then again, she is an English professor and rhetorician by trade. I’ve met both of them, actually (John lives in my hometown), and my impression is that they are both really decent people.

  6. Where are the good spokesmen/spokeswomen for Mormonism who are inside-insiders, who are committed to Mormon traditionalism, hierarchy, and scandalous theology without shame, obfuscation, or shifting neo-orthodoxy?

  7. Jared —

    I adore Joanne Brooks. I think she does a terrific job with Mormonism. I also think she speaks directly on the issues adoring what’s special about Mormonism “keeping Mormonism weird” to use her term, and addresses them directly. Can’t say enough good stuff about her.

    ____

    As for Millet I think his comment about trying to articulate and defend the faith makes sense. Ultimately overtime its going to be guys like Millet who create the canonical way the faith gets looked at. What will effectively play the role of the creeds. I think he is aware of this and does a nice job explaining that religions evolve. That’s one of the best things Millet brings to the table is addressing evangelical Christianity head on in its claims to having been essentially unchanged for 2000 years rather than a recent religion with older roots.

  8. Tim & Katie —

    There is a massive difference between minority religions being critical of the faith they are breaking from and majority religions, especially those that have used state power to win religious arguments, being critical of minority religions.

    Mormon criticism of evangelical Christianity is primarily theological, building the definition of Mormonism. Evangelical criticism of Mormonism while probably intended to be theological has an inevitable political dimension which changes the ground rules.

    The book of Hebrews portrays Judaism as the burned out dead husk of a once great religion. How Jewish rituals are now meaningless and can only have meaning through the restored Judaism of Christianity. That is essentially no different than what Joseph Smith was doing, and that was all Joseph Smith was doing.

    On Saturday the Republican candidates were upset by Muslim hostility towards Coptic Christianity in Egypt because the Copts could potentially be ethnically cleansed from Egypt. They took a strong position that the Muslim Egyptian government has a positive obligation to protect the Copts against Islamic incitement while not taking that position in reverse. And while I won’t accuse evangelicals at least since the turn of the 20th century, of going as far as the Muslims are going, the underlying delegitimization of pan-Arabism that took place from the 1980s is what led to the violence we see today; and that is analogous.

  9. I have read Joanna Brooks’ blog at Religion Dispatches for several years and sometimes read her “Ask Mormon Girl” blog.

    I think that, for any Mormon who reads Sister Brooks regularly, a few points about her are painfully obvious:

    A. She is an airhead. In view of the fact that she is a Professor of English, in California no less (Ph.D from UCLA and teaches at SDSU), who grew up in (then) lily-white Orange County and became a specialist in African-American Literature, this is not in the least surprising. For example, driven by her left-wing politics, she not infrequently responds to the latest political headlines by blogging about things as to which she is egregiously ignorant. For a really excruciating instance of this, see her July 29, 2011 RD blog about the temporary congressional impasse on the budget and debt ceiling titled “Mormon White Horse Prophecy Showdown in the Debt Ceiling Debacle” and the comment of Carknedge correcting some of her errors. Sadly, her post was not intended as parody.

    B. As a blogger, she is not a good representative of Mormons because of the combination of three facts: (1) most of her blogging is about politics, (2) she is very liberal politically, and (3) Mormons are overwhelmingly conservative politically. A January 11, 2010 Gallup Poll showed that Mormons are by far the most politically conservative religious group in the United States. The results were particularly striking when Gallup looked at the results as to the 80% of Mormons that Gallup classified as “active” as opposed to 20% who were “lapsed.” The active Mormons were 65% conservative, 29% moderate and 5% liberal. The nation as a whole was 38% conservative, 37% moderate and 21% liberal and lapsed Mormons were very similar to that. Thus, she blogs about politics and Mormonism from an extreme minority position.

    C. As a blogger, she is not a good representative of Mormonism from a religious standpoint either. In her RD blog, she has described herself as an “unorthodox Mormon.” Let’s just say that, while that sort of approach might be common among, for example, Catholics, “Cafeteria Mormonism” is another extreme minority position. For example, in her RD blog post where she relates her conversation with Warren Cole Smith, she responds to his criticism of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon by remarking that “many” Mormons have a “non-literal” view of the Book of Mormon. In actual fact, not one Mormon in a hundred would say that, and her statement was terribly irresponsible.

    D. Lastly, apparently because she is so upset about the Church’s backing of Proposition 8, she wrote in her Ask Mormon Girl blog that she “has no respect” for the Church. She tries to identify with the Mormon people, but she is alienated from the Church, and that alienation creates a chasm between her and the near-unanimous love of the Church among the rest of us.

    My point in writing all this, and believe me I could have written a lot more, is that, when you read or listen to Joanna Brooks, you are learning only about her, and you are not learning about Mormonism, the Church or Mormons.

  10. Murdock…I think you’re an airhead. /rolls eyes

    I don’t think JB has ever pretended to represent the majority Mormon position. In fact, she’s pretty explicit that she doesn’t. What she has, however, is the ability to make Mormonism at least somewhat comprehensible to a more liberal/academic segment of the population that historically hasn’t even tried to understand us. Her bled of strong writing skills and “outside-insider” status in the LDS community (as Tim and I were discussing) makes her commentary particularly interesting for that segment of American society.

    It makes sense that her perspective doesn’t resonate with you. You’re not her target audience.

    But I’ve got to pull a Kullervo and call bullsh!t on your allegation that Brooks “has no respect” for the church. Read or listen to the woman for 22 seconds with even a smidgen of empathy and you’ll see that she has a lot of love not just for the people, but the institution. You can think she’s wrong…misguided…faulty in her doctrine…whatever. But she’s clearly respectful.

    Tim, I’m sorry for the swear (my first ever around these parts, I think). Feel free to edit. Got a little fired up. 🙂

  11. CD-Host, I think you’re right: both Millet and Brooks do a good job articulating their respective perspectives (that’s fun to say!) from the positions they have in the community. I’ve enjoyed reading/listening to both of them, and have learned lots from both.

  12. Murdock — Is there anywhere in that interview where you feel Ms. Brooks has misrepresented the Church? I haven’t read or listened to the entire interview yet, but in the parts I’ve read she seems to give an accurate presentation of what the Church is like.

    Katie L said of Ms. Brooks:

    You can think she’s wrong…misguided…faulty in her doctrine…whatever. But she’s clearly respectful.

    I have to agree. I listened to an interview with JB recently where she gave one of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever heard of the Book of Mormon. There was nothing wishy-washy about it at all.

  13. I appreciate your variant perspective Murdock. I know more than one theologically conservative Mormon who has similar feelings toward JB. My own view is that she is an absolute God-send for Mormonism and the Church itself. Most of the Mormons I’ve met in the US and from around the world are quite misinformed about their own history and doctrine and how that intertwines with the culture at large. Brooks both acknowledges and candidely explans many of the issues and somehow finds a way to defend the faith in the same breath.

    If I am to acknowledge a flaw in her writing/thinking, I would say she takes the anti-Mormonism of her youth too personally and let’s it cloud her analysis of the issue today. (then again, I grew up outside DC, where Mormonism was one of many minority religions)

  14. I would also add that its people like Joanna Brooks who can help shatter the notion that Mormonism is a monolithic cult. This seems to excape “Prophet-as-infallible” type Mormons.

  15. Murdock —

    A-D are 4 different ways of saying she’s politically liberal
    A she has a liberal type educational background and job
    B she’s a democrat
    C she applies liberal critiques to her own faith
    D she support a liberal social issue.

    I agree she’s not representative of Mormonism. She presents a form of Mormonism that doesn’t require being a member of the Republican party. I would just remind you the highest ranking Mormon in US politics is Harry Reid who is: pro gay rights, a huge early supporter of Obama (i.e. in 2007 he was one of the ones who talked Obama into running), a supporter or redistribution of wealth,….

    Joseph Smith was an advocate for Christian Communism. Under Brigham Young there was Christian socialism, “The experience of mankind has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice”. Certainly I agree with your statistics regarding Mormonism and the Republican party, and this seems to go all the way back to the 1830s with early Mormonism having a good relationship with the Whigs and terrible relationship with Democrats.

    Joanne Brook’s message is a Mormonism which is acceptable to non Republicans. I guess my question to you is, if you have to come to believe that the United states would benefit from a tax policy being more progressive, or that the United States should have a more UN centric / European style foreign policy; do you feel that this belief requires one to renounce the Church of Later Day Saints or do you think room should be made for the membership of people with these views?

  16. Here is an example of what I am talking about. This is from Joanna Brooks’ May 27, 2011 post on her Religion Dispatches blog. This is an excerpt of her transcript of her telephone interview of Warren Cole Smith, who had written on Patheos that it would be bad to elect Romney as President because he is a Mormon. This passage contains one of WCS’ egregious errors (“howlers”), which show that he is an ignoramus about Mormonism, as well as a completely accurate statement by WCS. What we are interested in here is Joanna Brooks’ shameful retreat into her own “we-are-really-more-sophisticated-than-all-that” cultural Mormonism, instead of stating the actual teachings of the Church and the actual beliefs of 99% of Mormons, and her deliberately giving the impression that her own, highly unusual views are the actual teachings of the Church or the typical view of Mormons in general.

    WS: Don’t put words in my mouth. I have tons of Mormon friends. I spent a lot of time in the West. I welcomed the Mormon Church’s involvement in Proposition 8. But the doctrine and worldview are flawed and dangerous, and they will ultimately derail Romney’s presidential campaign. I promise you that if Romney’s campaign persists, the issues will come out. My understanding is that Mormons believe Lost Tribes of Israel came to the Americas, and that Jesus came too. Is that not accurate?
    JB: There are many Mormons who take non-literal views of Mormon scripture. And the Mormon beliefs you call “idiosyncratic”—like ancient peoples from Israel coming to the Americas (or the Garden of Eden being in Missouri, and so forth) are a part of our Mormon heritage. But if you review the Church’s messaging and Mormon practice today, you will find that they don’t constitute the core of contemporary Mormonism.

    The only correct response to WCS would have been as follows. First, the Book of Mormon describes the journey of one extended family from Jerusalem, in one wooden ship, to the Western Hemisphere. It says nothing about the Lost Tribes of Israel making such a journey. Second, the Book of Mormon does in fact relate Jesus’ visit to the Western Hemisphere. What we get, instead, from Joanna Brooks is that “many” Mormons take a “non-literal view” of the Book of Mormon. In other words, she says that “many” Mormons do not believe that the Book of Mormon is true. Frankly, if Joanna Brooks does not believe that Lehi’s family traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas, and she does not believe that Christ visited the Americas, then she has no testimony and she is not a Mormon. More importantly, she has no business telling the public that “many” Mormons share her lack of faith, because it is just not true. She then goes on to state that the essential predicate of the Book of Mormon, Lehi’s journey, is “part of our Mormon heritage”, sort of a matter of folklore, but “they don’t constitute the core of contemporary Mormonism”, presumably because we are now too sophisticated for such fairy tales. And, she claims to base this in part on the Church’s own “messaging”! Of course that is not true. If one visits mormon.org, where the Church presents to the public what it views as the essentials of our faith, one sees presented exactly what Joanna Brooks dismisses as “non-core” myth. For Joanna Brooks to tell the public that her own faithless views are what is “messaged” by the Church, or reflect “Mormon practice today”, is an outrage. Joanna Brooks ought to become an Episcopalian, they are as smart as she is.

    Katie L, do you think that this is bullsh!t too?
    Christian J, Joanna Brooks is not an expert on Mormonism. She is just a Mormon. Mormons in general know at least as much as she does about our history and doctrine. The knowledge she exhibits is from early morning seminary in high school and the required 14 credit hours of Religion at BYU. In one RD post, she stated incorrectly that the company in which her family traveled to the Salt Lake Valley was a handcart company when she could easily have looked up that it was a wagon company and that it was years before the first handcart company. She is an English professor, not a scholar of Mormonism. BTW I live in suburban Washington DC, and the only “anti-Mormonism” around here is sermons at Evangelical churches. Besides, my Muslim and Hindu neighbors do not know the difference between a Mormon and a Catholic!

  17. Like I said, Murdock, it’s a matter of empathy and being willing to read the best into what people are saying as opposed to jumping all over them for daring to believe something other than what you believe.

    I didn’t read her as saying that Mormons in general don’t believe in the literality of the Book of Mormon or that Jackson County is the location of the original Garden of Eden — just that while such beliefs are part of our heritage and culture, they are not at the center of our theology. And I certainly hope she’s right about that, or I’ve been sold a bill of goods: I’ve spent my whole life thinking that the “core” of Mormonism is the atonement and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ!

    As to her use of the word “many,” I guess that’s a matter of definition. She didn’t say “most,” which implies a majority — “many” merely connotes the existence of a sizeable sub-population. What constitutes many? A hundred? A thousand? Ten thousand? Any of those would mean “many” to me, and even a cursory glance around the Mormon corners of the internet tells you there are at least that many. Your mileage may vary, of course. But then again, so might hers. 😉

    I do apologize for my use of a curse. I don’t usually curse on the interwebs. It just felt to me like you were being pretty unfair to Joanna Brooks, especially that part where you accused her of having “no respect,” and I responded by becoming sad and angry. But my response is my responsibility, and I hope you’ll accept my apology for being disrespectful.

    In any case, I very much doubt our ability to have a productive exchange on this issue, Murdock, so I’ll probably bow out now. I’ll give you the last word, though, in case you want it. Have a great one! 🙂

  18. I think Brooks is clearly an outlier amongst Mormons. However, she is representative of a particular kind of Mormon. There is a difference between Missouri Synod Lutherans and the average Lutheran in Sweden, but they are still both Lutherans. Whether or not she personally has correct views, I don’t think she fundamentally misrepresents the Church, even as she includes unorthodox views.

  19. I’m reading these various comments–many of them from people who I know or suspect to be just as socially conservative as the most conservative Mormons–but not yet reading anyone addressing the simple fact that Joanna Brooks represents exactly the kind of member that would NOT be in good standing in their own evangelical churches either. Has no one observed that Ms. Brooks would likely NOT be the quintessential Evangelical or Baptist either? Am I the first to point out that a dissident voice, seeing conservative windmills to tilt at in the Mormon church, would be tilting at the same windmills in other traditional orthodox churches too? If she were an offended Evangelical rather than an offended Mormon, dissing the Nicene “male-domination” view of God, or grousing about antiquated old-fogie church leaders of the Lutheran Synod, or condemning the anti-Gay attitude of the Southern Baptist Convention, or blogging against policies of most Bible-based protestant colleges,–would she be seen as anything more than a disgruntled and misguided “revisionist”? Ms. Tippett did not find a Mormon “expert” on Mormonism (a point made correctly and accurately by Murdoch). Rather she found a dime-a-dozen social liberal thinking that they know how to steady the ark of what they wish were a more secular and liberal church. I wonder if the Amish have an equivalent curmudgeon waiting to be interviewed so they grouse about those god-awful bonnets and beards! I actually agree with Brooks that ALL organizations can become mired in group-think and symbol over substance. If that were all she were assailing I’d have no problem. But, frankly much of the reform Joanna Brooks wants to see in the LDS Church has to do with key doctrines and scriptural truths that just ain’t gonna happen.

    Therefore, to somewhat wink at her “brave” unorthodoxy as a Mormon “critic”, does not address the fact that many Baptist and Evangelical Churches, who also oppose gay marriage, homosexual lifestyles, and want traditional values, like the Mormons, would likely be genuinely horrified if she joined their ranks too. It seems almost a bit catty if someone were to celebrate her skewering of those pesky, conservative Mormons, while at the same time agreeing with 99% of those same Mormon social and scriptural positions. Brooks is not a theologian. Brooks is a left-leaning liberal reformist, who happens to have been born into a Mormon family heritage. It doesn’t make her a bad person, and on many points from an “anthropological perspective” she’s likely got good points to make. She struggles fitting in because she feels the LDS Church (and Christianity in general) hasn’t molded to her world view. She’s right. It hasn’t, and likely won’t. Perhaps the children of Israel were just trying to broaden the view of Moses when they built the golden calf and were genuinely surprised when God didn’t update Israel to accommodate their secular “improvement”.

    Brooks condemns the Mormons (and presumably orthodox Christians too) for their conservative views, traditional family values, preservation of marriage and the roles of gender in society. Okay. Isn’t that heroic, I suppose. But frankly, I’m left to wonder, so what? My experience has been that two things can’t occupy the same space simultaneously. You can’t claim to be led by a prophet, while also claiming he’s a false prophet. You can’t claim gender roles are archaic, while also accepting defined biblical gender roles. You can’t say God condemns homosexual acts, while also claiming the church should ignore homosexual actors. If Ms. Brooks prefers “reform” to “tradition”, she is welcome to find a church after her own image. I’m sure the Unitarians would welcome her with open arms. She might even find a good home with the Community of Christ, who embrace women in the priesthood, and a loosey-goosey equivocal interpretation of the Book of Mormon. But frankly, as a devout and fully brain-washed Mormon, I think Sister Brooks is welcome to feel uncomfortable, more than she is welcome to mold the Mormons into something they never intended to be. It was that very creeping secularism and accommodation with Helenistic culture that corrupted the original church in the LDS view, which the Mormon church claims to correct by direct revelation and restoration. I hardly think they care to repeat the cultural decay and doctrinal “blending” that required a restoration in the first place. I’m all for improving the box which carries the pearl. I’m afraid Ms. Brooks wants to replace the pearl with whatever “gemstone” du jour is most in vogue at the moment. Diversity within Unity should be our goal, which means Ms. Brooks will likely remain uncomfortable as she seems to want Diversity alone.

  20. I wonder if the Amish have an equivalent curmudgeon waiting to be interviewed so they grouse about those god-awful bonnets and beards!

    First off while Mormons are conservative you ain’t as conservative as the Amish. But yes the Amish have equivalent curmudgeon, and like the Mormons they have whole sub-denominations in the US founded by the curmudgeons which have gone on to thrive. But this brings up the key distinction between the Amish and the LDS. The Amish are baptists (anabaptist) and believe in local congregations, they don’t have a central structure. The Amish are technically Amish Mennonite, (Jakob Ammann broke off from the broader followers of Menno Simons). The Amish are the curmudgeons who think the rest of the Mennonites aren’t strict enough. A Joanna Brooks would likely end up joining a Mennonite church and there would be a meidung (shunning) for a while, then people would wink at the meidung (her parents would visit their grandkids). Then it would all settle down to only being a semi-tense theological dispute by the 2nd generation i.e. her children and your children wouldn’t be rude to one another.

    That analogy doesn’t work for Mormons because Mormons make claims about the nature of church that go well beyond anything an Amish would ever claim about their particular church. The better analogy would be something like the Catholic churches, which make similar (though somewhat weaker) claims. And in those churches there is severe tension between liberals and conservatives. The conservatives want to maintain discipline but they really do want to avoid schisms, and are thus willing to live with people whom they don’t agree with.

    For a Catholic conservative the problem with a Joanna Brooks would not be that she believes liberal stuff, but that she is teaching. Because she is teaching they would be pushing for heresy excommunications, and leadership would have to respond. A good example of a similar situation for Catholics was when Nancy Pelosi gave her theological defense for her pro-choice position (i.e. she attacked the position that ensoulment occurs at fertilization based on the writings of the church fathers). Most conservatives thought that compounded the issue, because it was a catholic theological defense … She was not excommunicated though, her comments stood, and as conservatives feared entered the mainstream as an alternative position regarding the teachings of the historical church.

    In those sorts of churches, it becomes complex, it becomes nuanced. The tension between theological ultra liberalism and Mormonisms conservatism is something really unique: a bunch of people who think George W. Bush was a good president, citing religious ideas that Paul Tillich might think but would figure too radical to speak, KJVonlyists who are to the left of Elizabeth Johnson on re-imaging God.

    The question you need to ask is do you want the Mormon church to be more like the Catholic church which has diversity and size or more like the Mennonites which has a huge range of sub-denominations that share no common structure. Do you want Mormonism to be a church or a large family of diverse churches?

  21. Murdock, that’s funny about your Hindu neighbors. Growing up, I had a Muslim friend of mine give me ant-Trinity literature based on a reading of Mosiah 15! I was rolling…

  22. Eric said:

    I listened to an interview with JB recently where she gave one of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever heard of the Book of Mormon. There was nothing wishy-washy about it at all.

    I bet she avoided any reference to its historical claims though.

    Garth said:

    Has no one observed that Ms. Brooks would likely NOT be the quintessential Evangelical or Baptist either? Am I the first to point out that a dissident voice, seeing conservative windmills to tilt at in the Mormon church, would be tilting at the same windmills in other traditional orthodox churches too?

    She wouldn’t be a quintessential Evangelical but I think she’d be more accepted as a part of the flock than she is in Mormonism. Case in point, right here in this thread she’s being declared “not a Mormon” because of her political views. I know all kinds of Evangelicals (some in my own church) who hold similarly liberal political views and their membership in the faith isn’t questioned. There may be strong disagreements and they may be challenged but it’s infrequent for them to hear they aren’t a part of the larger body. (not withstanding Fundamentalist sects).

  23. Tim —

    Don’t forget what blog I run. I can give you plenty of examples of people being excommunicated for holding (and in her case teaching) liberal viewpoints. My guess is that you would consider them fundamentalist, which is evangelical speak for “people far enough to the right of me”.

    For example Judith Baker who is a semi regular was excommunicated for publicly disagreeing with Gary Ezzo (Babywise) and refusing to use corporal punishments on infants. The church was C.J. Mahaney, who is host of Together for the Gospel, board of Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and one of the key founders of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

    The Mormon church has a lot of severe abuses of church discipline in the late 80s and early 90s. They seem to have gotten better since then.

  24. I’m not going to deny that it happens in the larger tent of Evangelicalism (which includes Fundamentalist). But Evangelicalism is much bigger than Mormonism and has far more avenues for church discipline to occur.

    I was referring to the median (or mean) experience.

    Perhaps we can take Tony Campolo and compare him to Joanna Brooks. How many Evangelicals are saying he’s not a Christian compared to Mormons claiming Brooks isn’t a Mormon? How much more frequently is Campolo being invited to officially speak to Evangelicals?

  25. Well, JB wouldn’t be an evangelical because she’s not just liberal politically, but theologically. She would never buy into the inerrancy of the Bible, for example.

    Mormonism is fascinating because we’re all kind of stuck with each other. We don’t want to go the Mennonite route and have a bunch of sub-denominations, so even when we find ourselves outside the mainstream, we’ve got nowhere to go! Because we worship based on geography, we have to learn to get along with people far to the left and right of us. This is the hardest and best part about being Mormon. I get frustrated in church sometimes, but I feel spiritually stretched on a regular basis because I have constant opportunities to love, respect, and serve people I disagree with passionately, people I would never seek out left to my own devices.

    A friend of mine from high school came out of the closet not long ago. He is now a grad student at an ivy league school studying theology. He is a deeply spiritual person. He wrote a blog post that struck me to my core (I wish I could link to it, but I can’t find his blog). Speaking of the struggles he had coming out to his conservative Mormon family, he said something to the effect of, “Who is Christ to my family? It is a son and a brother who is gay and can no longer be a part of the religious community where he was raised. And who is Christ to me? It is a 55-year-old mother who weeps for the loss of a son. Christ is whoever is hardest for us to love.”

    Sometimes we don’t do so well (for example, it honestly tears me up when I hear fellow Latter-day Saints telling those they disagree with that they don’t belong in our community — what a tragedy!), but in those moments we get it right, it’s beautiful.

  26. Aaron– All Christians, including the LDS need to embrace the personalities of everyone, to the degree that they don’t bring overt heresy into the Church. I’m not seeing anyone here saying she’s “not a Mormon”. I certainly never said that, but rather I said her discomfort in the Mormon Church would likely be over the same issues in ANY non-liberal denomination. Sister Brooks is essentially uncomfortable in the LDS church because it doesn’t conform to HER liberal world view. (That’s not in question as she’s said so herself.) Some world views are inherently antithetical–and that’s why I said two things cannot always occupy the same space if they’re in opposition. But that is primarily a function of where Sister Brooks is coming from, not a function of where the church is coming from. She’s welcome to seek a soul-searched truce between her secular world view and the Mormon church and if I were her bishop I’d find a non-teaching calling where she could grow without crossing doctrinal bridges where her views would be in conflict. I’d hope she and the Church find a way to compromise. But the conflict is primarily of her own making, in my opinion. ANALOGY: If I visited a friends house, and announced that for me to be comfortable in their house I demand they paint it over to my color preferences, change the carpets to my taste, and make major structural renovations to make me comfortable, it might be a bit cheeky of me. Some of the demanded changes might be a valid improvement and as the home owner I’d go out of my way to comply with valid suggestions and improvements. But if still unhappy, I might have to draw the line at some point. I’d hope a guest in my home would not push hospitality to that point where I could no longer accommodate her “comfort zone.” At some point pride and judgmentalism might breach my best efforts to keep her happy.

    I suspect this undoubtedly good woman, would have the same conflict with most Bible-based, traditional churches too, is my point. I’d hope she evolves into a happy LDS member as time passes if she chooses to stay a Mormon. So your point that she’d feel MORE welcome in an evangelical church where conservative values are less central to their core-identity may be true. But could that not also say something about the core-identity of that church if the compromise required gets too close to serving two masters? After all, aren’t churches suppose to help us mold ourselves to the gospel image, rather than mold the gospel into our own image? The first rule of parenting our children is that friendship is less important than being a parent first. As our heavenly parent, I’d try to do God’s will before my own, if I’m in harmony with the gospel as revealed. That’s actually my point–that the Mormon church is based on a theology of teaching that we should reach for the divinely established “bar”, not have the bar lowered to fit individual social preferences. I’m not condemning Joanna Brooks in details which I have no way of knowing, but I’m just pointing out that I’ve never felt an obligation to be all things to all people. Like my Dad once observed when watching my son throw a tantrum over something trivial; “It’s okay–let him fuss–he’s old enough to be frustrated.”

  27. Katie, just a point of clarification: Inerrancy isn’t a marker of Evangelicalism. The broader term infallibility (the Bible is true in all of it’s teachings) fits the broader field of Evangelicalism better. Many Evangelicals are inerrancist though.

  28. I’m not seeing anyone here saying she’s “not a Mormon”.

    Garth, you didn’t say it, but Murdock did in this comment: Frankly, if Joanna Brooks does not believe that Lehi’s family traveled from Jerusalem to the Americas, and she does not believe that Christ visited the Americas, then she has no testimony and she is not a Mormon.

    Sad times. 😦

    Also, I don’t know how much of Joanna Brooks’s writing you’ve actually read, but she’s not fundamentally uncomfortable in Mormonism, at least as far as I can tell. She has serious concerns about the way some things are handled, but she’s here because it’s the place that feels most comfortable to her, spiritually.

    ANALOGY: If I visited a friends house, and announced that for me to be comfortable in their house I demand they paint it over to my color preferences, change the carpets to my taste, and make major structural renovations to make me comfortable, it might be a bit cheeky of me.

    This assumes, Garth, that the church is “someone else’s” house. But my understanding of the Body of Christ is that it is, by definition, all of us — or to extend your analogy, it is our house. There’s this “conform or suffer the consequences” mentality that has creeped into LDS church culture, and while everyone has a right to feel uncomfortable and folks like Joanna undoubtedly do more often than others, have you ever stopped to consider that maybe the other side is a little too comfortable? That the moment you think you’ve got it all figured out is the moment, perhaps, that you’ve missed something? That whole “all is well in Zion” thing and all that…

    I don’t know, maybe I’m talking crazy talk, but it’s something I try to keep in mind.

    Also it’s a little unflattering to compare a grown woman, who is almost always tempered, measured, and respectful in tone, to a child throwing a tantrum. There are tantrum throwers in the church certainly — all across the theological spectrum — but I’ve never observed Brooks to be one of them.

  29. Katie, just a point of clarification: Inerrancy isn’t a marker of Evangelicalism. The broader term infallibility (the Bible is true in all of it’s teachings) fits the broader field of Evangelicalism better. Many Evangelicals are inerrancist though.

    Thanks, Tim. Dang it, I even Googled it to try to get the right term. 🙂

  30. Either way, I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t buy into the infallibility of the Bible, either. As far as I understand, that would almost certainly put her outside the evangelical borders, right? Or would there be tolerance for that perspective, too, in a church like yours?

  31. My church is very broadly tolerant of anyone who wants to attend and participate.

    But yes a rejection of infallibility would place her outside of Evangelicalism

  32. I said:

    I listened to an interview with JB recently where she gave one of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever heard of the Book of Mormon. There was nothing wishy-washy about it at all.

    To which Tim said:

    I bet she avoided any reference to its historical claims though.

    The issue of historicity didn’t come up one way or the other. But I need to make a possible correction: The person giving the rousing testimony may have been Jana Reiss, not Joanna Brooks. It’s probably sexist of me, but I get the two mixed up sometimes. In fact, I now think it was Jana Reiss, but I can’t be certain.

    Katie — As I understand it, infallibility in matters of faith and practice is pretty much a hallmark of evangelicalism, and the fundamentalist wing of evangelicalism tends to hold to infallibility in other matters (such as history and science) as well. (Some people consider fundamentalism a part of evangelicalism, while others consider it a distinct branch of Protestantism.) The belief in infallibility extends only to the originals, though, although I’m not sure how much practical difference that makes.

    Within evangelicalism, though, there is a wide spectrum of approaches in how much allowance to make for allegory and figurative language. (In other words, infallibility doesn’t preclude the use of allegory.) There is some debate going on within evangelicalism, for example, as to whether it is necessary to view Adam and Eve as historical figures, although I’m pretty sure it’s the norm among educated evangelicals (not fundamentalists) to believe that the Earth and its creatures were created over millions of years.

  33. Tim: Case in point, right here in this thread she’s being declared “not a Mormon” because of her political views. I know all kinds of Evangelicals (some in my own church) who hold similarly liberal political views and their membership in the faith isn’t questioned.”

    “I’m not going to deny that it happens in the larger tent of Evangelicalism (which includes Fundamentalist). But Evangelicalism is much bigger than Mormonism and has far more avenues for church discipline to occur. I was referring to the median (or mean) experience.

    Groan.

  34. Katie. You make good points and yes…we LDS (and all denominations) definitely can get lazy in our “group-think” and clannish behavior. That’s the part of Sister Brooks discomfort that I have absolutely no problem with. The classic example is always wearing white shirts for the men. It’s become a defacto uniform and symbol of compliance with tradition that of course means nothing in reality. If she’s urging changes of our humanity as appropriate, I’m all for it.

    I would clarify that my point about a child throwing a tantrum was to make the point that being all things to all people, or feeling there’s an obligation to avoid frustration is not a our mandate in the Church. The maturity/age of the frustrated person was not my point, though I see how you could get that. As for Murdock’s point, which I also read, but took it to mean that his point was there are certain “givens” in claiming membership. Aaron made the same point when he said; “But yes a rejection of infallibility would place her outside of Evangelicalism”. I took Murdock’s point to be that you can’t claim to be a Mormon and deny the Book of Mormon claim, anymore than you could claim to be a Christian and deny the New Testament claim. I think his point is they can’t claim to be a fish if they don’t have gills.

    I’m trying to grant benefit of the doubt when I say “I’m not condemning Joanna Brooks in details which I have no way of knowing.” I think the human element of any church can always use tweaking and improving. But basic stands Brooks protests are doctrinal and more core elements that lie outside of that realm, it seems.

    You discuss that “we”–the members–are the church. If the Church is what it claims to be then it’s not “our house” ultimately, but God’s. We are invited into it and in the sense that we form “the body of Christ” allegorically. I get your point. But, I was thinking more along the lines that if God’s plan for us, doctrines of salvation, theology, etc., form the walls and structure of His house, then we are ALL just guests in His house/kingdom. Who are we to order it’s remodeling to fit our finite whims as generations come and go? I observe dissenters tend to think of the “Church” as a human structure, which can be redecorated and changed at our whim. For example, if God loves the sinner but not the sin– and if homosexual intercourse is indeed a sin as stated pretty clearly in scripture–then what gives us the right to order God to remove that doctrine from his commandments to accommodate us in 2011? We can certainly discuss how to embrace those who are homosexual. We can learn to empathize, and feel the pain of our outlying members. But I sense Sister Brooks might feel the only cure is to change the doctrine itself. I don’t see that as our call to make. That may be seen as “conform or suffer the consequences”, as you point out, but what would be the alternative? How we deal with church standards will always require some measure of…well,…standards. I don’t see anyway to get around that conundrum. and perhaps it’s a bit like the dual opposing commandment in the garden 1) choose for yourselves AND 2) don’t eat the fruit from that tree. Likewise, we are commanded to love and reach out to ALL mankind and also commanded to teach and obey the commandments. Sometimes, the two are in opposition to each other.

  35. Oops! Sorry. I was getting your picture in my head as Aaron Shafovaloff, who posted earlier. You guys look like brothers, man!

  36. I guess, Garth, it goes back to the question of who gets to be in Christ?

    We can have a theology or behavior based litmus test. There are those who would certainly prefer that. But I don’t know that that’s correct.

    I could be completely misreading the Biblical record, but my understanding is that the only people Jesus ever got really mad at were religious hypocrites — devout members of the community who were “perfect” in their external observance of the Law but who, on the inside, were judgmental, angry, and power-hungry. I fear that in our culture we have too much hypocrisy and not enough love for the openly broken or those on the fringes. I fear that this hypocrisy has been institutionalized in some instances, with policies and procedures and expectations that clean the outside of the cup but leave the inside filthy and unchanged. I fear that more often than we should, we miss the heart of the gospel — a changed heart and a changed life and genuine relationships with God and others — in favor of a squeaky clean exterior and crystal clear boundaries.

    Jesus never cast out His disciples who misunderstood His message (note: that was all of them). He never cast out the sinners and adulterers and publicans and thieves. The literality of the Book of Mormon or “what to do with the gays” is ancillary to the question of what kind of heart do we have as individuals and collectively? And a heart that would jump to excommunicate and Otherize people for sincere disagreements or slip-ups seems to me anathema to the message of Christ.

    “If ye are not one, ye are not mine” is a message the Lord delivered to the church in our dispensation. I do not believe that comes by everyone believing the same things in the same way. I believe that comes by the radical love of God.

  37. I agree with everything you say Katie. Loving our wayward saints is even more important than loving our non-wayward saints. Loving those we agree with is easy, but loving those we don’t agree with is harder. But isn’t this thread really about those who leave us, not us leaving them? No one would advocate excommunicating a liberal Mormon, or a Democrat Mormon just because of their social positions. Nor Sister Brooks just because she’s not happy. In her interview she talked about she removed herself from associating with the body of the church, and as far as I know has not faced any repercussions or discipline. I would propose that we likely tolerate her, better than she tolerates us. I don’t think the issue of OUR exclusion of her–in this thread at least–is the issue as tolerance after all, is suppose to be a two way street. It was Sister Brooks who said she was unable to tolerate the Mormons in the mainstream of the church, after the Church’s support for Prop 8. But, ultimately, doesn’t the Church as an entity have the same right to take a moral position, that Sister Brooks would claim for herself?

    It is ironic as I observe many of our ex-members (not talking about Joanna Brooks) who claim how they felt judged by other members, whom they then proceed to judge. My daughter once said that she hated judgmental people, which in and of itself risks being what you say you hate. One ex-Mormon actually wrote the following about what he considered to be the “fake” piety of Mormons who try to have good works in their portfolios; ” I have seen the layers of this feigned humble onion peeled to reveal arrogant, boastful people who even go as far to call themselves “good” … someone must stand up and tell you goodness won’t.save you.” I just thought it was ironic that he condemned Mormons for being prideful and “good”, while simultaneously presuming the prideful role of judging and condemning us from his position of superiority.

    I had an anti-acquaintance I met on line who made the following observation about the Mormons; “How can we expect them (Mormons) to encounter the God of Love, if we don’t tell them how much He hates them.” So ultimately, while you state beautiful thoughts which I completely agree with, I sometimes am left to wonder why some liberal minded people expect tolerance toward them, but not so much from them. They want us to tolerate their burning of an American Flag at a 4th of July parade, but you’d take your life in your hands if you demonstrated the opposite by burning a rainbow flag at a gay-pride parade. (Not that either should burn either, but my point is I suspect the ACLU would support the former, and prosecute the latter as a hate crime.) We can all work on tolerance, and both sides need to show the same courtesy and respect.

  38. But isn’t this thread really about those who leave us, not us leaving them?

    No, Garth. We’ve been talking about unorthodox voices and if they have a place in our community. Joanna Brooks isn’t an unhappy Mormon, nor has she left us, as you keep insisting. She’s not “wayward.” She’s active, holds a current calling, and loves being Mormon. She talked about taking a break after college for a few years, and was devastated by Prop 8, which happened only weeks after her return to activity…but she’s still here, she’s still serving. I’m not sure what interview you listened to? (The one in your head, which says that no liberal could possibly be a happy Mormon?) 😉

    Of course tolerance is a two-way street. Our critics and dissenters are going to be spiritually crippled if they treat us with hostility, as is anyone who lives from hostility. But if, in the face of hostility, we point fingers back and say, “But you do it, too!” we are no better than they are.

    We can learn from even harsh critics. And we can build bridges and create peace where there is only anger and intolerance, if we are the ones to take the first step.

    For example, your ex-Mormon friend had an important point: in and of itself, goodness won’t save us. Only Jesus Christ can do that. Imagine what it might have done for the relationship if only someone had had the presence of mind to acknowledge his pain and say, “You’re right, my friend. Sometimes we Mormons do spend so much time building our portfolios of righteousness that we forget our need for grace and end up hiding our brokenness and judging our neighbors. This isn’t what Christ would want, and I hope it changes, too.” What kind of productive discussion might have arisen from that sort of response? How could it have contributed to healing?

    We can all work on tolerance, and both sides need to show the same courtesy and respect.

    I believe there is a fundamental paradox in human relationships: you can only influence others to change when you let go of your need for them to change — when you accept them with open arms, exactly as they are.

    I don’t expect “both sides” to show the same courtesy and respect. I allow them to be as they are, and expect MYSELF to show courtesy and respect regardless of how I am treated. I have found that when I do this, most people respond in kind. But even when they don’t, I try to love them the same and treat them with as much dignity and compassion as before.

    (I’m often very bad at this — I get fired up and judgmental way too easily — but it is always what I’m striving for.)

    Loving our friends is easy. Learning to love our enemies is what makes us more like Christ.

  39. Good points Katie and no major protest, but I didn’t mean she “literally” left–as in a full and complete name removal. I just meant disassociated herself, of her own choice, not because of any clerical action from the Church. She dropped out for as she said 6 or 7 years, which is the “leaving” I’m referring to. I’m not an expert on Joanna Brooks and if she’s happy being back, I’m thrilled for her. Even if it’s a tenuous association.

    I agree with your take on hearing detractors by finding where we agree, which I followed very much the tact you proposed in the conversation with the friend I mentioned. So many of our differences turn out to be far less substantive when we truly stop to understand the other point of view. Often we talk past each other, like them thinking we preach salvation by checklists and ordinances, and us thinking they ignore righteous actions totally. We don’t explain the role of grace as the gift it is as much as we should in the church.

    I have tons of patience for honest brokers, who simply have honest disagreements. Honest criticism is never offensive. I have less patience for dishonest brokers, who purposefully and knowingly misrepresent simply to defame and harass. Sites like this that allow honest and respectful exchanges, and groups sharing common goals, like the examples of Richard Mouw, Robert Millet, Stephen Robinson, Craig Blomberg, Gerald McDermott–all are blazing good bridges between our denominations.

  40. Garth, I genuinely appreciate the dialogue — it’s been fun. 🙂

    Just one last question: why did you qualify her relationship with the church as “tenuous?” Is it because there was something about her individual, unique experience that you heard in the interview that gave you the impression that she in particular is not fully committed? Or is it more general — you don’t believe that anyone who holds the views that she does could be authentically, totally Mormon?

    Either way is fine, I’m just curious.

  41. Katie; Perhaps the word tenuous is less accurate than “tension”. I’m presuming when she speaks about leaving the church for 6-7 years, being highly offended and hurt by the stand for prop 8, talking about the uncomfortable relationship with her devout father over her mixed feelings about the church, comments where she discusses “there are contradictions and each woman in the church manages them in her own way.” She describes the BYU faculty purge of the 90’s in what I would view as a slanted description using terms like “terrible climate for academic freedom”, when I personally thought some of those faculty were more than asking for it, like D. Michael Quinn–(essentially anti-Mormon and yet teaching at the Y?) I don’t remember all the details 20 years later, but its clear her perception saw the church as wrong and the faculty fired as “victims.” One can debate who’s right or wrong, but it certainly seems to have been offensive to Ms. Brooks and a point of tension. She talks about feeling her feminist views made her feel like an “enemy” to the church in her perceptions and says; “I still get emotional talking about it.” and then adds; “And it’s not all sorted yet.” She mentions the church stand against gay marriage in Prop 22 offended her and led to her inactivity for those years stating; “It kind of broke something inside of me.” In view of the current social issues she struggles with she said; “the church has never dealt with the accumulation of, you know, pretty much racist folk doctrine that happened over the years in Mormon communities to legitimate priesthood segregation, …That sort of truth and reconciliation process has never happened with race, it’s never happened with polygamy and, you know, there’s still of course, a very contested relationship around LGBT issues.” There were lots of other indicators, but I think that list suffices to suggest a tenuousness in her comfort zone. I’m not commenting on the validity of those feelings, which are always valid to the person feeling them. My opinion has no bearing on how valid they are to her.

    I’m only providing some of the reasons why I am seeing “tension” or a “tenuous” relationship with her feelings toward the church. That’s her business and what rings her bells might not ring mine. That doesn’t also mean she doesn’t have positive things to say too. I’m just acknowledging WHAT she feels, in her own words, which at least to me as an outside observer would suggest the word “tenuous” could apply. For all I know she’ll come out the stronger for it. Just acknowledging what appears pretty apparent from reading her interview. Frankly, since she mentions her Jewish husband anthropological profession, I could very much see that perhaps Sister Brooks is analyzing the church not just, or even primarily, with eyes of faith, but more analytically–applying a sociological or anthropological perspective, with a dose of feminist world view as a filter–to her perception of the church. She mentions her role as a scholar, so choosing to apply more than “faith” or “testimony” alone is certainly her right to do. Sometimes we grow by finding answers to what we question, more than relying on what we already believe by faith, so I wish her well. She’s certainly well spoken, tries to be even-handed in the interview, and I have no problem with her freedom to choose her own path.

    My own preference would be to answer the big questions once and first–was J. S. a prophet? Was there an apostasy? Was the Church restored? Is the B of M true? Is the Church God’s kingdom on earth? And if those answers are all yes, I would personally pay less attention to the peripheral and “lesser” issues if they pull away from what’s most important, in my view. I never expected the human element of God’s kingdom, due to our foibles as mere humans, to perfectly reflect an error-free church on earth in the first place, so perhaps I’m less bothered by the human error that exists in any church. Where errors exist, or where social whims create the illusions of errors, I’ll leave for God and time to resolve. But I’m a guy, and so by definition, probably less nuanced and perceptive than Sr. Brooks appears to be. In other words, my personal opinion, would be that Sister Brooks may run the risk of putting second things first, and first things second. But I grant her that right and hope the Church can address her tensions to her satisfaction, but also hope she grants the human element of the church the right to even be wrong sometimes. That’s my 2 cents worth and I don’t claim it’s the only way to see this issue. Thanks also for the good discussion. Your insights are amazing.

  42. Garth, thank you. I feel like I understand your perspective a whole lot better now, and it’s certainly reasonable. I think you’re right — in light of what you just shared, “tension” might be a better word to communicate your point than “tenuous”: the latter implies a weak or insubstantial connection, while I don’t think anyone could argue that there must be a TON of tension inherent in walking a path like that.

    I’ve enjoyed the dialogue. Have a great one! 🙂

  43. Let me just throw out a few comments here regarding Joanne Brooks. First off most people are critical of organizations to which they belong. There is an old expression, “home is where the newspapers make you angry”. I’m frequently very emotionally critical of the US government and emotionally indifferent to other governments, the policies of Egypt, Italy, China… are simply facts based on their strategic interests. There is no emotion at all when I talk about where they stand. The US government, when I analyze their actions they are held to a higher standard and it is emotional. Joanne Brooks is critical of the LDS in a way she is not of the Episcopal Church because she is connected to the LDS. This is not in spite of the fact that she is connected to the LDS.

    And I think you are being a bit biased. D. Michael Quinn is not an anti-Mormon, he is an anti-propagandist. He expects his church to desire to tell the truth. And of course purging people who are “asking for it” is what it means to have a terrible environment for academic freedom. No one purges the academics who aren’t “asking for it”, the whole point of the tenure system was to allow professors to engage in research without fear of being fired for offending important patrons be they church or state. An institution that sees itself as having to advance the official propaganda line is not a university that has academic freedom. To use another example, these sorts of institutional ties are why the Obama administration questioned whether FOXnews should be thought of as primarily a news organization at all and not as the news arm of the Republican party.

    The fact is the Catholic church to this day suffers for their excommunications of people like Luther and Galileo. The Presbyterian church suffers to this day for the excommunication of Gresham Machen and Anne Le Fert. September Six, particularly if it is not reversed in their lifetime, is going to be very much like Mountain Meadows that is going to be a stain on the church forever. It doesn’t make me any less of an American to believe that Bush’s torture policy, was a moral disgrace and is going to undermine our moral claims for a generation.

    but also hope she grants the human element of the church the right to even be wrong sometimes.

    Of course she does. If she didn’t there wouldn’t be any tension, it would be a false church and she’d be done with it.

  44. Good points and I grant all but the concept of purging academics at BYU. Luther’s excommunication actually was not wrong since per the Catholic tradition he was indeed an apostate who directly opposed the Catholic belief. Just because you like Luther, doesn’t mean he deserved to be excommunicated by the natural consequence of his actions. Galileo was definitely a mistake as no one would dispute. I don’t recall the details of the BYU purge now, 20 years later. So I’m not sure if there was merit for all, some, or none of them. Wan’t one of them teaching that we should pray to our Heavenly Mother? Can’t recall the details now. Maybe sensitivities would be different now than 20 years ago. In Quinn’s case, as I recall, his problem wasn’t as pure a motivation of just being an “anti-propagandist”, as you put it. I’ve read several of his books, and I felt they were laced with extreme propaganda, since lots of his “research” in church history, for example on magic and talisman’s was purely speculative and full of unproven assumptions. If anything, at least the books of his I read, they reeked of frequentt speculation, and inferences he elevated to propaganda. I recall he built an entire argument about the date of Sept 21/22, (Moroni’s meeting with JS) being correlated to the summer solstice, and how that to Quinn proved a magic/mythic element to the annual Moroni visits to J.S., without ever bothering to show that J.S. was even aware or observant of some druid “solstice” ideology. It was laughable and the very example of letting your imagination and “propaganda” run amok to prove a fantasy as if it were fact. Not at all impressed with Quinn, but I have not bothered with him since so can’t say if he’s sound in other areas. But we’ll have to disagree about his motivations.

    Academic “freedom” can be a very manipulative word. Take the outrageous example of the U of Colorado professor Ward Churchill, who claimed his “freedom” was being suppressed, when actually he was just a far left loon masquerading as an academic. Colleges are full of Ward Churchills. BYU also recently purged Stephen Jones, the 9/11 “Truther” who was adamant that the twin towers were brought down by planted bombs and was “severenced” out. Was his “academic freedom” suppressed? And don’t get me started on tenure in general. Of course any action where you abrogate the rights of others–like Mountain Meadows, or Salem Witch Trials, or burning dissidents at the stake–are obviously wrong because you remove the inherent rights of others to life and property. But there is no “inherent” right to be a professor at a college. Employment anywhere should never place one above minimum standards of the institution where one works. Can I claim a right to be a nudist working at the local McDonald’s, just because I claim the right to exercise my “freedom”? Should a church not be allowed to fire a pastor whom they discover is secretly living a gay life style? Shouldn’t he have the “right” to be free regardless of Church dogma? Therefore, if BYU–a church school–finds that some of its faculty are working at cross purposes, refuse to reconcile, and instead thump their chests about “academic freedom”, they can certainly be fired without invoking the ACLU to defend them. Don’t recall the details in each case, but I personally think you may just see them as victims, because, like Luther, you agree with them.

    Finally, water boarding is a good example where even you elevate opinion to fact. You certainly are aware that your categorizing it as torture is not fact, but opinion. There are other opinions that it is not torture, as even our own navy seals and army rangers have been water boarded as part of their captivity training. Others point out that non-lethal methods, without permanent harm are appropriate when other lives are in eminent danger. If my family were on the plane with a ticking bomb, and I have the bomber tied to a chair with full knowledge of where the bomb is–hand me the cheesecloth and the hose. I do not believe it’s torture to let a terrorist be discomforted so I can save the lives of innocents that HIS choices have placed in danger. Letting him kill others, when I had the means to stop him, would be the real torture for the new victims that I let die rather then meet out the treatment that the terrorist actions deserved. Acts of war abrogate the application of civil rules and the rules of war do not require Miranda rights, and gentle interrogations. Jack Bauer is an icon for a reason in the American Psyche.

  45. Correction above: 3rd sentence was accidentally reversed in meaning;
    “Just because you like Luther, doesn’t mean he (DIDN’T) deserve to be excommunicated by the natural consequence of his actions.”

  46. Hi Garth. Wow we do disagree on a bunch here, it is hard to find common points to work from. I’ll hit some of your points and come back to Luther and Galileo perhaps in the next round.

    I think the case of Stephen Jones is very similar to Michael Quinn. I along with the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education disagree with how the Jones case was handled. And, I should mention, I’m not a 9/11 truther so it is not just me “agreeing with them”. Ward Churchill, is a more complex because in addition to academic freedom there are also fraud issues, and a rather weird career path; making his a more complex case. Ward Churchill I’m up in the air about, though I do think he is kinda like a Rush Limbaugh for the left.

    Can I claim a right to be a nudist working at the local McDonald’s, just because I claim the right to exercise my “freedom”?

    You mean can you claim the right to work nude, or the right to be a nudist in your personal life while working at McDonalds? I’d say no and yes respectively.

    Should a church not be allowed to fire a pastor whom they discover is secretly living a gay life style? Shouldn’t he have the “right” to be free regardless of Church dogma?

    Yes, generally being in good standing with the church is a requirement for being a pastor. If that is your analogy regarding status for BYU then BYU ceases to be fundamentally a scholarly institution. It would instead be a place where research is under full ecclesial authority and therefore any statements made by any of its professors would need to be reverified by outside institutions. To reuse the FOXnews analogy, the same way news organizations can quote each other, but cannot (ethically) quote lobbyists without checking with other sources first.

    Therefore, if BYU–a church school–finds that some of its faculty are working at cross purposes, refuse to reconcile, and instead thump their chests about “academic freedom”, they can certainly be fired without invoking the ACLU to defend them.

    The ACLU hasn’t been involved, BYU is property of the LDS. It is the AAUP that has led the charge on these issues, arguing that BYU has essentially no academic freedom (AAUP censure list). As you can see from that list most religious schools aren’t on it, they do protect academic freedom. Your arguments seems to be that BYU shouldn’t have academic freedom, that the church’s mission should come first and you seem to be hinting that even for most secular schools academic freedom shouldn’t exist at all. Obviously I disagree. I think the history of academic freedom and the value it has brought society are without question, while I’m hard pressed to see much good that has come from censorship.

    As for Quinn on magic. His books have unquestionably turned up hundreds of pieces of information. It is a primary source and he is certainly speculating. But were the orthodox version of history true, those pieces of data wouldn’t be there. Lets not pretend that Quinn was fired for shoddy research, he was fired for excellent research that disagreed with the church’s official stand.

    Finally as for water-boarding. At the end of World War II several Japanese officers were executed for water-boarding US prisoners of war, other were sentenced to hard labor. Should the United States indicate that they were wrong convicted and pay compensation to their families?

    As for training. You are allowed to do lots of stuff to people voluntarily that you cannot do to prisoners to extract information. It is perfectly legal for a doctor to shoot me full of poison to try and treat a cancer, and absolutely illegal for a police officer to shoot me full of a much lower dosage of those very same poisons to try and extract information. The rest of your paragraph is not a defense that water-boarding is not torture but rather an argument for why torture should become a standard tool in criminal justice, an apology for torture. Which is irrelevant to the question of whether water-boarding is torture. The torture argument is essentially similar to your academic freedom debate, where you started by objecting to Joanna Brook’s characterization of BYU and are now arguing that she was correct, but that is irrelevant because academic freedom is a bad thing

    What intellectuals like Joanna Brooks or Michael Quinn do is force Mormons as a community to address internal contradictions. In the case of Michael Quinn, along with John Brooke and Lance Owen; the ties between early Mormonism and Hermeticism. In the case of Joanna Brooks the ties between early Mormonism and 19th century social radicalism (to quote her): In its time, Mormonism was a radical social movement. Early Mormons to some extent practiced a mild of communalism, sharing resources and sacrificing for shared causes. They flouted Victorian sexual norms with polygamy. They were visionary, they were spiritual seekers.
    It’s only in the middle 20th century, as Mormons became assimilated into broader American society, that we’ve become more aligned with conservative politics and the Republican Party.

  47. I think Garth is right. 19th Century farmers in rural New York who practiced divination probably didn’t know anything about the solstice.

  48. “The fact is the Catholic church to this day suffers for their excommunications of people like Luther and Galileo. The Presbyterian church suffers to this day for the excommunication of Gresham Machen and Anne Le Fert.”

    How are these facts? As was pointed out The Roman Catholic Church didn’t have much of a choice, if it was to guard what it believed to be orthodoxy, but to excommunicate Luther. I’m not sure you can demonstrate that theological indifference to Luther’s teaching would have been a successful option for Rome in handling him. Despite not agreeing with Galileo’s inquisition, I don’t see how the Roman Catholic Church suffers for it.

    It’s tough to blame Anne Le Fert’s excommunication on the Presbyterians, since it happened well before there was a Presbyterian Church and difficult to see how Presbyterians suffer for it, when few know anything about Le Fert. It is especially difficult to show harm to the church since it was the Little Council and not the Consistoire that tortured and banished her. For that matter it could be argued if there had been a presbytery for her to appeal to rather than the political authority of Geneva, Anne may have fared better.

    Finally, how exactly did the mainline Presbyterian church suffer for Machen? It’s pretty clear that post Machen (despite my solidarity with Machen’s Warrior Children) the mainline Presbyterians got everything they wanted, political activism, watered down subscription for officers, and ecumenical relations with any church that would have them. Strictly looking at numbers it is hard to explain how the 2 million members of the PC(USA) suffer compared to the 25,000 in the OPC. The conservative confessional voice in the mainline has been gone since at least 1967. Look at the congregations departing the PC(USA) over homosexual ordination, they are not exactly flocking to the OPC for fellowship. Frankly, the conservative congregations leaving the PC(USA) today don’t find the confessional doctrine of the OPC and the other NAPARC denominations all that desirable.

    I’m not trying to defend the mainline Mormon church but as I understand it Quinn was given ample opportunity to direct his academic research to projects his employers would find more fitting. Color me surprised when he chose not to heed the warnings that he found himself on the outs. Do the mainline Mormons suffer for this? I don’t see how they suffer anymore than if they were still stroking the check for Quinn work on papers they found hostile. Heck they get that for free.

  49. How are these facts? As was pointed out The Roman Catholic Church didn’t have much of a choice, if it was to guard what it believed to be orthodoxy, but to excommunicate Luther. I’m not sure you can demonstrate that theological indifference to Luther’s teaching would have been a successful option for Rome in handling him.

    Had Luther not been excommunicated, he would have preached against the selling of indulgences, and possibly the church wouldn’t have raised as much money from them. Indulgences stopped soon after, Luther anyway Conversely via. the excommunication they created an entire separate sect that’s now going on 500 years old with 300m members. To defend against this they had to launch a counter reformation that went further than most of the reformers were asking for in 1519. The full impact / damage for the excommunication of the excommunication of Luther keeps growing. But what we do know is already a disaster.

    Despite not agreeing with Galileo’s inquisition, I don’t see how the Roman Catholic Church suffers for it.

    Centuries of propaganda against the church arguing they were anti science. The reason in the United States that Catholicism was seen as a religion for the ignorant up until the 1920s came from these Protestant attacks and Galileo was exhibit number one.

    It’s tough to blame Anne Le Fert’s excommunication on the Presbyterians, since it happened well before there was a Presbyterian Church and difficult to see how Presbyterians suffer for it, when few know anything about Le Fert.

    I would argue the Presbyterian church lost the ability to be a state church as a result of the Le Fert excommunication. That was the point, when churches, within Protestantism went from co-equal with governments to really important clubs / societies. Calvin’s dream of a Christian state (Calvinist theocracy) died with the excommunication of Anne Le Fert. (link to my blog on Anne Le Fert).

    Finally, how exactly did the mainline Presbyterian church suffer for Machen?

    Machen joined up with the Fundamentalists. So when neo-evangelicalism came it had no compunction about attacking the Mainline churches, “sheep stealing”. They had adopted Machen’s idea that Liberalism was another religion entirely. I’d say the penalty was 2 generations of lost membership. The PCUSA would likely have been around 7m not 2m today were it not for the pounding they took from Evangelical Christianity. As I put it in my article, a split with Machen would a generation later lead to the PCUSA losing 1/2 its membership and all its growth.

    I agree that NAPARC denominations aren’t doing great but your group is around 350k and the others probably add another 50k. And that 400k is far more passionate on average than the PCUSA. The leakage was to mainstream evangelical christianity, i.e. “non denominational baptists” to use my term, and the schism has a lot to do with it.

    Do the mainline Mormons suffer for this?

    Absolutely! To put that in perspective when PBS did their special on Mormons, of the 13 primary guests 2 were from the September-6 (Margaret Toscano, Michael Quinn); and there was a whole (rather critical chapter) on the Mormon church and dissent (link).

    When I do a google search on “september six mormon” I get 4 million results. Could Michael Quinn ever have damaged the church as much as his excommunication has?

  50. Gundek —

    BTW before I check in for the night. One comment I forgot to add, bravo for knowing who Anne Le Fert was. I’m thinking you read Robert Kingdon, but regardless of the source excellent knowledge of history there.

  51. CD,

    I think that you are going a bit too far by passing off your historical speculations as facts. I know that you write about church discipline and you are using episodes of church discipline as historical turning points. The problem is that you haven’t presented any evidence for your speculation that the denominations in question continue to suffer for “questionable” ecclesiastical decisions. In each case you have isolated the particular incident from its broader historical context and either given the incident more influence than it actually has or assumed that inaction by the church would have tempered or marginalized the antagonist.

    Luther was excommunicated on the 15th of June 1520, 2 months later his book, written before his excommunication, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” was released. In his book Luther challenged the heart of the Roman magisterium and gave theological support to secular challenges to the Holy Roman Empire. To think that Rome could have ignored Luther until he just went away also misses the other actors in the first generation of reformers both theologians and the royalty that had interests in undermining the authority of the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor.

    I am open to correction, but I have read a bit of Calvin and I was not aware he had the dream of a Calvinist theocracy. In any case it is still arguable that Presbyterianism suffers especially when the American 1788 revisions to the Westminster Standards on the Civil Magistrate are examined, showing no interest in a Presbyterian theocracy or state religion status. Historically Le Fert doesn’t seem to have had any impact on the State religions of Europe, it was not until the 19th century that Protestant countries began to step away from state churches and it is difficult to show a causal relationship between an excommunication and the expansion of freedom of religion 300 years later. Plus you still cannot get around the fact it was a secular court that banished Le Fert.

    Your assumptions regarding Machen and the PC(USA) miss the fact that had he not been defrocked and remained influential in the Northern Mainline there was a very good possibility of the theological “liberals” bolting from the denomination. There certinaly would have been a stronger opponent of ecumenical relations in the denomination. His staying could have increased the use of para-church organizations for missions, education, seminaries decreasing denominational influence faster. In fact it has been argued that his departure ultimately worked out for the best for the mainline allowing theological “moderates” to latch onto the neo-orthodoxy of Barth as a compromise position with the liberal wing. In any case counting the PCA and other NAPARC denominations as a drain against the PC(USA) assumes that reunification would have taken place between the Northern and Southern mainlines without the PCA formation and ignores the continental reformed nature of many NAPARC denominations that have no interest in being Presbyterian.

    You also assume that Margaret Tuscano and Michael Quinn would not have been the primary guests on the PBS documentary if they were allowed to stay in the Mormon Church and teach at BYU. Immagine the headlines then, “Mormon BYU professors say…” At least now mainline Mormons can dismiss Quinn as an apostate. Besides if I google “I love September 6” I get 607 million hits. Number of Google hits is not a statistic that means a much.

  52. I think that you are going a bit too far by passing off your historical speculations as facts. I know that you write about church discipline and you are using episodes of church discipline as historical turning points. The problem is that you haven’t presented any evidence for your speculation that the denominations in question continue to suffer for “questionable” ecclesiastical decisions. In each case you have isolated the particular incident from its broader historical context and either given the incident more influence than it actually has or assumed that inaction by the church would have tempered or marginalized the antagonist.

    And of course you are doing the exact opposite here. We can’t conduct controlled experiments in history. “What if” is an interesting game but different theories of history dominate how the game is played. Some people think that the roads fork wildly, others have a more deterministic outlook and while we are in control of details we are not in control of the final outcomes, history tends to converge….

    As much as we can conduct a controlled experiment though Luther offers us one. Throughout the last 2000 years the Catholic church has been hit repeatedly with large groups of people who disagree with the magisterium on some critical point or another. Those disagreements are either finally settled by:

    a) Schism
    b) Compromise
    c) Somehow the whole community just outgrows the dispute

    (c) can and has happened quite frequently. There is essentially 2 case of a schism involving national churches breaking off and forming long standing (i.e. centuries) independent coalitions that are unable and willing to reconcile: the schism between Eastern rite and Western rite, and the Protestant reformation. I don’t thin it is unreasonable to argue that the dispute over indulgences was a perfect candidate for (c).

    The dispute over indulgences had raged for a while. We know Luther made some comments in 1516, and Luther bishop Albert in 1517. Exsurge Domine came in June 1520. That’s when the pope charged Luther, and the people who agree with 41 counts of heresy for the 95 thesis alone. And in general 500 years later the Catholic pretty much agrees with everything Luther said in the 95 thesis. They didn’t have to respond with an unbalanced screed, and then threatened state violence. They could have just as easily responded in a temperate fashion.

    The Catholic church choose the policy of violence, expecting go down the same path that they had with the Cathari. Now you are absolutely right that secular princes were excited about the reformation offering them an alternative to Pope’s interference. And there most definitely would have had to have been some rejiggering of the relationship, as there was in Italy, in Spain, in Portugal, in South and Central America, and in Catholic Africa. In those situations the church acted in a reasonable way, and was able to compromise (case b).

    Neither of us owns a crystal ball, but I think given that we are looking at a historical event that effectively occurred dozens if not hundreds of times that twice had the kinds of permanent negative impact that is useful to look at what was different about those situations.

    Irenaeus was unquestionably a heresy hunter. But when confronted with a schismatic movement that he felt could be brought into the church safely, Montanism his inclination was not to drive the people out but to bring them in closer and as a result the movements drew closer and the Tertullianist Christians of the late 3rd century were mostly Catholics by the 4th.

    I’ll hit Anne Le Fert in my next reply.

  53. It’s tough to blame Anne Le Fert’s excommunication on the Presbyterians, since it happened well before there was a Presbyterian Church

    Anne Le Fert was excommunicated in Geneva by Calvin’s religious and civil organization. Given that the organization had a Presbyterian form of government and Reformed theology and given that modern Presbyterianism sees itself as followers of Calvin’s ideas…. I don’t have a problem with the term for Calvin’s Geneva. If you want to use something like proto-Presbyterian I wouldn’t object to that either.

    I am open to correction, but I have read a bit of Calvin and I was not aware he had the dream of a Calvinist theocracy

    I have a list on my blog:

    Use of dictator like strategies
    Criticism of the ministers and especially Calvin was outlawed.
    He attacked the rich prominent families of Geneva as the most likely source of political opposition.
    Nobody could say anything good about the pope.
    He made frequent use of foreign loyalists against his own population.
    A network of spies was established and maintained, to report on matters of conduct and behavior between individuals.

    Religious Prohibitions:
    All inhabitants had to renounce the Roman faith on penalty of expulsion from the city.
    Nobody could possess: images, crucifixes other articles associated with the Roman worship.
    Fasting was prohibited,
    Vows were prohibited
    Pilgrimages prohibited
    It was illegal to pray for the dead
    It was illegal to pray in Latin.
    Attendance at sermons was compulsory. In addition, one had to arrive on time, remain, and pay attention.
    He executed heretics

    Regulation of society
    Charges of sexual immorality was frequently filed and people often punished for this.
    It was forbidden to give non-Biblical names to children.
    There were domiciliary visits, which were put on a regular semiannual basis. The homes of the citizens were visited in order to ascertain the state of the family’s morals.
    Dramatic performances were suppressed, except for plays given by schoolboys.
    Cards and dice were forbidden.
    Public dancing was outlawed
    Secular, indecent, songs were banned
    There were to be no private taverns; instead, places were provided for eating and drinking, in which pious behavior would be encouraged. A Bible in French was to be displayed, religious conversation encouraged, They were to close at nine in the evening. (this one failed since the religious taverns went out of business)
    ___

    What would you call a government obsessed with religious purity run by religious officials which considers religious dispute to be treason? I think we can all agree that Utah under Brigham Young was a theocracy. What is the distinction you see between Utah under Young and Geneva under Calvin?

    it was not until the 19th century that Protestant countries began to step away from state churches

    Anne Le Fert didn’t end state churches. What she ended was the ability of the churches to command the resources of the state. European countries had state churches, which performed church activities and received state funds. Much like the United States has a National Parks Service…. But it would be wholly different thing if the National Parks Service was essentially in control of the US government and you could argue that the rest of the government was merely the military / welfare / transportation and logistics arm of the Parks Service.

    Geneva went from a fully independent governed city state, to a city in Bernese territory. The theocracy was over. Now it seems like you are disagreeing that what Calvin established was a theocracy in which case the point about it being over is moot so lets resolve the first point.

    Plus you still cannot get around the fact it was a secular court that banished Le Fert.

    I’m asserting it was a theocracy. There is no such thing as a secular court in Geneva, which is why the Bernese government assigned an arbitrar to evaluate the case. The same way there are no genuinely secular courts in Iran. And certainly if a member of the Guardian Council of the Constitution in Iran were today manipulating the court and trying someone for adultery we wouldn’t say… well its just a secular court, no reason to consider this a religious affair….

  54. Come now, Calvin couldn’t even control how often his church celebrated the Lord’s supper. He only received citizenship on Christmas 1559. Was Geneva a pluralist society? Not so much.

  55. I finally was able to listen to the podcast yesterday. With one exception, I thought she gave a fair representation of the Church. I’m not sure I’d agree with Tim’s assessment that she’s distancing herself from the Church but not Mormonism so much as I’d say she’s still trying to find her place in a Church that she loves deeply despite some major differences.

    The exception is that I think she overstates the extent of opposition within the Church to its position on homosexuality. While indeed there may be significant numbers of those skeptical of the Church’s political involvement and hoping to see more compassion toward homosexuals (I’m one of them), I just don’t see any movement in the Church to take the approach that mainline (not evangelical) Protestants have.

    I also found her statements about Church leaders’ fears of a Romney candidacy interesting and am not sure what to make of them.

  56. “Smith’s prayer “to commune with some kind of messenger” on 21 September 1823 occurred once the moon had reached its maximum fullness the previous day and just before the autumnal equinox. The 1665 edition of Scot’s works (upon which the “Jehovah, Jehovah, Jehovah” Smith parchment depended) specified, “And in the composition of any Circle for Magical feats, the fittest time is the brightest Moon-light” (Scot 1665b, 215). An occult book published in New York in 1800 also stated, “Dreams are most to be depended on by men at the full of the moon” (Beverly Gipsy 1800, 19). Because the full moon was the preferred time for treasure digging (Dorson 1946, 174; Granger 1977, 225; R. Walker 1984b, 443), it is probably no coincidence that, according to Martin Harris, Smith acted as treasure-seer earlier that night (J. A. Clark 1842, 225). In fact, his prayer “to commune with some kind of messenger” may have been in response to an unsuccessful group effort earlier that evening to locate a treasure in the hill. That Smith’s experience occurred at the autumnal equinox was also significant. Because the planetary hours of invocation began at sunrise which occurred at different times, Sibly’s Occult Sciences had specified that the equinox was the time when the planetary hours of invocation corresponded most closely with the common hours of the clock (1784, 174; also deVore 1947, 179). In the magic world view, the equinox was a time when the earth could be expected to experience the introduction of “broad cultural movements and religious ideas” (Brau 1980, 194, 107).” – D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, p.120-121

  57. Ha ha. Thanks. Quinn’s use of speculation as fact was even worse than I remembered. Incredible.

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