Insiders & Outsiders

HawkgrrrlMormon 41 Comments

When it comes to Mormonism, do you feel more like an insider or an outsider?

Where you see yourself probably has a lot to do with whether you prefer being an insider or an outsider, and what the tolerance for deviation from the norms is from those with whom you most closely associate.

Personal Preference – which type are you?

  • Affiliation.  Some people want to belong.  They are called affiliators.  They like to be a part of a group, they want to fit in, and they do not like to be seen as “different.”
  • Differentiation.  Some people want to be seen as different or unique.  They can’t stand being like everyone else.  They will point out the ways they are not like the group’s norms.

The real solution here is that you have to own up to your preferences.  If you like being different or unique, don’t complain about being different and unique.  And if you want to fit in, own up to that and don’t blame others if your need to feel accepted outweighs the total amount of commonality you have with the group

Group Tolerance – which approach do you take?

  • Inclusive. Some people want to broaden the tent of Mormonism, allowing for everyone who has any interest to be “in” and to feel welcome.  They tend to find the universalist bent to the plan of salvation comforting and appealing.  They want to assure themselves that no one will ultimately be left out. They like to reach out to anyone at church who may be an investigator, or just have different or unpopular views.  They want everyone to be accepted.
  • Exclusive.  Some people want to police the standards and to “protect” the exclusivity of the community.  They quickly point out unacceptable deviations (sometimes directly or sometimes alerting lay leadership of the dangers posed by that person).  These individuals need to belong to an organization that is exclusive, free from infiltrators.  They might sniff with disdain when they smell cigarette smoke on someone’s clothes or whisper about that outrageous comment Sister Smith made in RS.  They might mention to the bishop the concern they felt when they saw Bro. Jones walking out of a store on a Sunday or that the YW president’s daughter was wearing a bikini to wash the family car in the driveway.

In reality, we are all insiders and outsiders throughout every conversation.  Things are said that we identify with (insider) and that we dislike (outsider), that we agree with (insider), and that we have no interest in (outsider).  These are probably the same categories whether you are at church or at work or hanging out at a family or high school reunion.  I have grouped these into a few categories:

  • Things you don’t believe (outsider) vs. shared beliefs (insider)
  • Things you haven’t experienced (outsider) vs. shared experiences (insider)
  • Things you don’t value (outsider) vs. shared values (insider)
  • Cultural differences (outsider) vs. shared culture (insider)

Christ would say we should strive to be more inclusive of others, while helping them to become the best they can be.  But first we must accept others on their own terms if they are at all interested in being part of the group.  To do that, we need to downplay the focus on shared experiences and shared cultural markers that are especially difficult for newcomers to share.  Focusing on shared values and beliefs seems the best way to be inclusive.

So, what do you think?  Are you more of an ousider or an insider?  Is that the way you like it?  How inclusive are you of others?  Are you sometimes surprised at how inside or outside you feel?  Time for a short poll based on the categories above.

[poll id=”50″] [poll id=”48″] [poll id=”49″]


Comments 41

  1. I cannot see a poll but I will try and verbally respond. I am definately an affiliator, but I also like to differentiate myself in some ways. However, I would say that I am more inclusive than exclusive, in that if people want to be in the Church I would like to help them and in that I do think the LDS Church has a lot to offer most people. I feel inside with the people, because I think they are great and I have some amazing friends in the Church, but I also know that I have quite different views on some things and also thinkly differently about the Church in general than some of my more immediate friends. However, this has been something that brings a healthy tension to those relationships. I remember a friend gave ‘for those who wonder’ to read and I felt like i was in the borderlands but in other ways (and perhaps to others) I am very mainstream in the Church (esp. with how some people see me – James once called me a poster-boy for the Church – which hurt my desire to be different a great deal). Maybe how I see my self is quite difficult to pin down.

  2. well, considering that I am bared from serving a mission because I am one year over 25 makes me feel a little bit like an outsider, I’ve heard that it can be very hard for those who don’t go on missions to get married to a halfway decent girl, I guess you could say I was good looking, even LDS girls fall for looks, but still, I pity the average young convert who has a hard time getting married.

  3. JD, I know at least 2 people in my somewhat limited circle of friends who went on a mission over the age of 25. One was in the MTC with me at the age of 28. Another was my college roommate who went when he was 26. If you really want to serve a mission, be determined and talk to your stake president.

  4. Post

    Sorry, but I hadn’t added the poll prior to now. It’s now in there. JD – I trained a fellow missionary who was 28.

  5. Hey, hawkgrrl – awesome post. Love reading your stuff, even though I don’t comment. Thanks for the writing – keep it up!

  6. I would say that I value differentiation, and inclusivity. I’m definitely an outsider, but want the church to include everyone (is that a valid option?). Of course it didn’t used to be that way. I was probably one of the cigarette sniffers. Not really, I wasn’t that extreme, but I have some brothers-in-law who were constantly “rebelling” in their own way, and I often thought they ought to conform rather than make such a raucous.

    Also, for the poll I picked “Like an insider socially, but a theological outsider” but I’m not sure that’s accurate. I guess I’m not clear on what “socially” means. I took it to mean that I fit in in the culture (I do because I’ve always been a Mormon and no one knows of my aberrant views). But if everyone knew, I probably wouldn’t fit in socially. But if “socially” means that I agree with the moral stance of the church and culture socially then I should have picked “Like an outsider both theologically and socially.”

    And now I’ve analyzed this way way too much. I’m putting the analyst away now 😉 !!

    Great post, I loved it.

  7. Great post, hawkgrrl. Without question I’m an inclusivist (I like people–and I like them to like me), but I have heterodox views, so I fall into the “insider socially, outsider theologically” category. One of the ways I maintain this balance is by being VERY discreet about my beliefs that fall outside the mainstream. I struggled mightily with this at first because I felt disingenuous…but eventually I realized that a)–if I’m going to be an active participant in the church, it’s the only way to survive with relationships in-tact; and b)–it’s probably more charitable to keep challenging things to myself anyway, because some people just aren’t in a place where they could handle hearing it.

    I am always on the look out for “people like me,” though. I try to pick up on small things that indicate folks might be coming from a little bit of an unorthodox place. I think there are more of them out there than we realize.

  8. Great post. I have two comments on this:
    1) I recently had a discussion on this subject w/ a fellow ex-mormon friend of mine. I am still happy in my decision to leave the church, but I definitely miss the idea that you are surrounded by people who believe the same exact stuff you do, and even if they have a problem with one or two doctrines, they usually keep it to themselves. I’ve always considered myself an outsider but i can appreciate the inclusive side of life.

    2) One of my HS friends was an adamant mormon who happened to have long hair. When he first grew his hair out, his ward members decided to collectively stop shaking his hand until he cut it. The funny thing is, he was planning on going on a mission but became disenfranchised with the church and opted out. Today he is an active member with a calling, whereas I had a much more supportive ward and served a mission, but today I am not active. i wonder which ward had a better policy. Should we show others our disapproval for their questionable activity or support them either way, and hope they will come around?

  9. From the way you described it Awesome (regarding your friend with the long hair), I think those ward members were COMPLETELY out of line. It always baffles me when I hear of stuff like that. We are all sinners, and the least of my worries is the length of someone’s hair. Ug. Why do we shun each other for things like that? Or for anything, for that matter?

  10. lemme try to shake the pot up.

    I don’t think I’m on the extremes, but I can still say I prefer differentiation. I don’t have anything against being a part of a group, but my idea is…if one doesn’t fit in, one shouldn’t force it. If one already is different, then sure, the group can be there, but they should always recognize and accept their difference from that group. Ideally, I’d probably be an affiliator, but the key is don’t just affiliate with a group just because it’s there. Affiliate because you fit in, it improves you, it brings you joy, etc., So, if I’m complaining about being unique and different (one of the no’s for differentiation), it’s not because of the difference and uniqueness. Rather, it’s a lamentation that there is no group that matches.

    As for group tolerance, I also think I’m not to one of the extremes. I can see areas where I’m both inclusive and exclusive. Namely, I don’t think we should be exclusive on superficial things (like the length of your hair? C’mon.) What should ideally happen is a core set of necessary beliefs should be established and that should be the method of exclusion. This core can be small (which leads to more inclusion overall) or it can be large (which leads to more exclusion overall.) But if I know what the core is, I can determine if I’m going to stick with the group or leave.

    I would say I’m an outsider socially and theologically. Socially because I’m just not that social a person, even though I know the ropes and the culture. Theologically for obvious reasons. Because of these things, I monitor what I do and where I’m affiliated — I don’t even risk the chance of forcing people in the ward to be exclusive or inclusive because I anticipate and avoid trouble there.

  11. Good points Andrew S. I would hate to say that I favor differentiation in all circumstances. It certainly would depend on the goals, design, and theories of the group in question. In this sense, I suppose that in fact I would value both affiliation and differentiation in the church. Affiliation because it brings me joy in some aspects of my life, and differentiation because I disagree with many things. Of course many of these things will leak over into the inclusive vs. exclusive argument as well.

    But this, like many other categorical measures isn’t really meant to label people per se, but rather to gain a deeper understanding of what makes a person tick.

  12. JMB:

    I think your point is extremely valid. I’m definitely Strider — not Aragorn, mind you, but definitely Strider. Keep the community safe, but not live in it.

  13. Hello, my name is Kate, and I am an affiliator. (All: Hi, Kate!) I am also inclusive in my views of who Mormonism should accept. But I am a complete outsider in my theological opinions and socially. Being an ENFP, this pains me exceedingly. Luckily, my current ward members are very inclusive. But I have been in wards that have had a majority of exclusive individuals.

    I don’t know what I will do when/if we move to such a ward again. I can’t handle not affiliating, but on the other hand it is nearly impossibly for me myself to be exclusive of other individuals who want to consider themselves Mormon.

  14. Learning to accept and others for who they are and not just for who we want them to be is one of the hardest lessons in life, imo – and one of hte most difficult of organizational management in any group.

    As in most things, I tend to be right smack dab in the middle of this particular personality test – which probably won’t surprise most of you here.

  15. I have found moving to a new ward has made me feel like an outsider, and I am probably more liberal in my thinking than most of the people I’ve met in my ward, so that makes me a thoelogical outsider as well.

    I’ve tried to be comfortable with who I am and where I’m at… to go to church for the benefits to my family, but I have honestly felt disappointed and have “home-sick” feelings for my prior ward where our family was clearly affiliated and insiders socially, even when my opinions where different than others. Perhaps over time, our feelings will change (been in this ward 2 years now), even if my ideas don’t.

  16. I’m an affiliator, however I have always felt like i’m on the outside looking in when it comes to socialising in the Church. this perhaps lead me to aggressively seek theological affiliation. Interestingly as I have received those social rewards I have realised that I have naturally found myself a theological outsider. I also seek to display this as I’m teaching or answering question in a manor of Differentiation.

    I’m a product of my environment, as a youth I found that if God had his way I would have been adopted, If I had been born 12 years earlier I would not have been worthy to hold the priesthood when those in my group would because i’m a descendent of cain and ham. In addition to this I have had some amazing people in my life, people who truly have a testimony of Christ, and were a beautiful example to me of how I want my life to be.

  17. Great post, Q&A!

    Can you expound on your statement a little further:
    “I also seek to display this as I’m teaching or answering question in a manor of Differentiation.”

  18. Hmm. I usually feel as if I am on the outside, observing. It can make me feel smug and superior at times, and lonely at others, but most of the time I am pretty oblivious to those undercurrents. I generally like being alone in my head, participating in the outside world as I feel the need, rather than participating because of social expectations.

    I will also say, that it is nice when one finds kindred spirits, who wander about on the fringes as well. It is pleasant to have an “inside” on the outside, where someone knows your name and you feel at home.

    I am happy to welcome visitors to the fringe, as long as they don’t come so often I lose my alone time, and as long as they aren’t overbearing in their sociality.

    This can sometimes create dissonance when I also purport to believe strongly in community and the public good. I often feel that Zion is one of the more underrated parts of our theology. Becoming of one heart, and one mind, and allowing no one to be poor among us – living in pure charity. I passionately believe in Zion and want to be a part of creating it, in the hopes that there I can find not only community, but at the same time the freedom to be apart when I need to be.

    What an interesting topic. Thanks for encouraging these thoughts, Hawkgrrrl.

  19. Heber13 – “I am probably more liberal in my thinking than most of the people I’ve met in my ward, so that makes me a thoelogical outsider as well.” That’s funny you should say it like that, because I often think of myself as being more ‘correct’ and ‘well-reasoned’ in my theological interpretations, and yet I find many members to the right of me in orthodoxy and social conservativism. But I interpret that as me being theologically sound and them being affiliators. Leading me to wonder if another key difference is how affiliators and differentiators view theology. As a differentiator, I see it as a personal quest for understanding, therefore somewhat unique in how I understand it. An affiliator would probably view it more as something to be passed down through tradition and hierarchy rather than something to be obtained through independent quest. Of course, we all know the route JS took . . .

  20. Hawkgrrrl:

    Great post! I am reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He said that once a person’s basic physical needs have been met, the most basic emotional need is the need to belong, followed by the need to feel significant. In other words, to fit in and then stand out. The order of development is important. Those who reach for significance without first finding belonging will likely be quite antagonistic or even hostile. I’ve also heard it said that society’s two bugaboos, sex and violence, stem from a failure to find genuine belonging and significance. Much like a descending spiral of replacing good food with junk food and then just plain crap (balance diet>pizza>twinkies), people who cannot find belonging substitute pleasure and then sex. People who cannot find significance opt first for power, then failing even that, go for violence. (Sex & power are, obviously, to be understood in the negative sense of those words.)

    From my experience as a pastor, I have to say that theology is more often used as a litmus test for fellowship than as an avenue for genuine growth. I think this is a dynamic that Joseph Smith faced and one that had a scarring influence upon him and many of his followers. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had the local clergy reached out to young Joseph instead of ostracizing him.
    Perhaps some of the differences between the LDS and the Community of Christ can also be traced back to the levels of positive interaction they had with the larger religious culture. In other words, belonging and significance work on both the local and societal levels.

    And to JD: I wish you luck in your search for a good looking Mormon girl who will take pity on a non missionary man. Surely there must be some young woman out there who is passing fair, pleasing plump, and not terribly fussy. 🙂

  21. 3 Nephi 18:22-23
    22 And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;
    23 But ye shall pray for them, and shall not cast them out; …

    D&C 46:3
    3 … ye are commanded never to cast any one out from your public meetings, which are held before the world.

  22. David, since pastors always sit around with plenty of time on their hands, will you comment and write here more often? 🙂

    That is a profound point about how this topic applies to entire organizations – especially those that share a common heritage but have walked different paths. I would be interested in how you view the Reformation and the theology that eventually allowed those who used to fight passionately among themselves to reach a degree of “we’re all saved despite our differences” – while holding onto the idea that such an inclusive stance doesn’t apply to those who reject it, like the Catholics and the restoration groups.

    Do you think the emergence of “common enemies” caused a fundamental shift within Protestantism from denominational exclusivity to body-of-Christ inclusivity?

  23. I’m definitely a nonconformist. I loved having an Obama sticker on my car when it was in the church parking lot. In the parking lot of the historically black college where I teach, not so much. Not that my political views changed, or that I was embarrassed about them, but at work, the Obama sticker made it look like I was fitting in.

    When I participate in Mormon internet forums that are generally faithful and conservative, I tend to speak out on those issues where I disagree with commonly held views. On forums that are generally more critical of the church, I tend to speak out in its defense. Really, my views are the same in both places, its just a difference in what issues push my buttons. But I may be perceived as “TBM” in one place and “apostate” in the other.

    Has anyone else encountered that image on the internet that shows a couple wearing garments with a caption something like “Conformity: When it makes you look like this, it’s not a good idea”? Wait a minute: Wearing boxer shorts makes you a nonconformist? I guess it all depends on who’s seeing you in your underwear. Maybe that’s why I wear one-piece garments. Not only are they more comfortable than boxers, briefs, and two-piece garments, but it makes me a nonconformist among both Saints and Gentiles.

  24. I value differentiation (one reason going to BYU after being raised on the east coast was such a culture shock) and inclusion. Most of the wards I’ve been in have been accepting of everyone, although there are always a small handful of members who think they should enforce their own brand of orthodoxy. I think that’s probably the case in every religion though.

    Kate, you bring up an interesting point about personality type. I am an INTP, which means I’m pretty used to feeling like an outsider and I’m OK with not always being included. I am lucky though that I have always had friends at church who are willing to accept my weirdness and like me for me.

  25. “theology is more often used as a litmus test for fellowship than as an avenue for genuine growth”

    David, that is profound. Thank you. I absolutely agree. Why do you think this happens? What are some things we can do to make sure we aren’t the cause of this?

  26. Hawkgrrrl,

    I am a convert which made me a bit immature as to gospel knowledge and what is considered doctrine vs. opinion. It has taken quite a bit of time to sort these things out. I know the church likes members to fit into the cookie cutter of what a good Mormon should be. I have rebelled against this stereotype and have reverted to being me. I have a strong testimony of the gospel and I live my temple convents. My Ward has the greatest people I have ever known. But I believe in the House of Blues motto “Unity in Diversity”. As our membership grows we will be a church of diverse cultures and will have to adjust to meet the needs of all members. I look forward to the day when the church is not made up of a bunch of White folks. I love the Church for saving me from a world of hurt. A good Bishop saw something in me and along with my wife and her family they changed my life.

    Don’t mean to ramble, but this question you posed has made me think and take inventory.

  27. The Obama bumper sticker comment was probably the best one I have seen as distinguishing affiliators from differentiators. I am an affiliator and worked for the Obama campaign. I also own one of those “straight but not narrow” pins for my book-bag. But the Obama signs and stickers and pro-gay marriage paraphenelia get put away around ward members.

    On the other hand, I am always thrilled to meet other Mormons who are similarly liberal or off-beat. Perhaps its because I fit in better, I dunno. However, it is telling that even folks way to the left of me that I DON’T get along with I happily welcome – the more diversity the better.

  28. #20 – Heber13

    Can you expound on your statement a little further:
    “I also seek to display this as I’m teaching or answering question in a manor of Differentiation.”

    to “expound” my statements. Interesting actually I think my actions of differnciating myself is motivated still!!! by my desire for affiliation. I attempt to drops hints that my views are not the standard TBM views you would normally get, in the hopes that I will find someone that I can affiliate with. Whilst teaching I have often referred to Eugene England, and other none GA references, My questions are often awkward, due to my attempts prevent standard automatic answers (I’m still not very good at this because silence is unsettling).

  29. David Stout – great insight! I really appreciate your angle on that. I too have sometimes wondered what would have happened had JS been embraced by the local pastors.

  30. I haven’t ever wanted to be one or the other, I’ve always just tried to be whatever I was and for a long time, I used to feel like such an outsider at church – sitting in RS and thinking “Wow, I really am like a non-member in here! This is driving me crazy!”

    In the past couple of years though, I”ve found that the more comfortable I am with myself, the less I judge others. The less I judge others, the less I worry about how they view me, or whether I’m an insider or an outsider. Even with the differences in lifestyle and theology (or lack thereof) now, I find that I almost always feel like an insider wherever I go – even at church.

  31. David Stout—“From experience as a pastor, I have to say that theology is more often used as a litmus test for fellowship than as an avenue for genuine growth.”

    One of our church leaders, Boyd K Packer, once said “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior”.

    I liked your thought, wondered if you could elaborate and compare your experiences to Packer’s idea.

  32. I also like Packers quote:
    “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior (in Conference Report, Oct. 1986, 20; or Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17).”

  33. #22, Hawkgrrrl said:
    “As a differentiator, I see it as a personal quest for understanding, therefore somewhat unique in how I understand it. An affiliator would probably view it more as something to be passed down through tradition and hierarchy rather than something to be obtained through independent quest.”

    It sounds like you are saying there are people who differentiate themselves to seek personal truth, and there are others who affiliate to the established teachings of truth so they feel reaffirmed, supported, and more confident in their testimony. I would agree, and think I have lived mostly under the latter scenario, but more recently (as I get older), lean towards the former.

    I think a lot of those with church affiliation is still stemming from the social need to be a part of the group…regardless of theology.

  34. I know I think differently than most LDS people. But I have never felt like an outsider. That might be because I feel like this is my church as much as it is anyone else’s. This is my religion, my parents gave it to me. (Just like they gave me my English language for speaking.) Mormonism is my spiritual language. If someone thinks I don’t belong, that’s their problem, because I do belong! And I’m not going anywhere. And I’m not going to be quiet in Gospel Doctrine class.

  35. Holden and Heber:

    If by “understood” is meant a grasp of true doctrine that involves behavior and not just intellectual or even heart acceptance, then I would be inclined to agree. I think it instructive that James refers to visiting widows and the like as pure religion. The overall content of his letter reflects a very similar idea. Caring for others in practical ways and refusing to show favoritism to the wealthy is clearly the heart and soul of James’ understanding of true faith. This of course echoes Jesus’ teaching about knowing a tree by its fruit and his famous discourse on final judgement in Matthew 25. Paul’s summation of the Law in Galatians 5.14 is simply love your neighbor as yourself. (I believe someone else said something quite similar.) Given Paul’s over the top emphasis on doctrine, this statement is quite remarkable.

    I think that people get off track when they do one or more of several things. One is to see doctrine as something of a school subject that one must study and then answer some sort of essay or multiple choice test. In this way salvation is based upon knowledge and not grace or faith or love. A necessary implication of this approach is that only those who have been taught the proper material and learned it well are capable of being in God’s good graces. While I enjoy learning, the notion of getting into heaven because I got an “A” on my essay concerning blood atonement is a trifle unsettling.

    A second mistake is to become overly convinced of the rightness and necessity of one’s own position. Proper confidence is a good and necessary element of religious belief but when you start thinking you have it all down perfectly and that those who don’t really must listen to your vast wisdom, the results are not likely to be pretty. While I know that one of the goals of Latter Day Saints is to become a god some day, I think it wise to avoid “premature deification”. It tends to destroy relationships pretty quickly. A little humility can do a world of good, especially when it comes to theology.

    The last path to derailment is to use one’s grasp of doctrine to hide troublesome doubts and fears. As a seminary professor once put it, “Weak point, pound pulpit.” When someone starts getting fanatical about their doctrine, I wonder whether they might be trying to convince themselves. As a matter of fact a good definition of “fanatic” is someone who must convince others of his own position in order to believe it himself.

    I hope this was helpful.

    Ray and Hawkgrrl:

    I’m working on a response to the whys and wherefores of Reformation churches attitudes towards Restoration churches. It will have to be a posting I think. Too long for a comment here.
    And thanks for your kind words.

  36. Umm, there was a post about Ballard saying that polygamy didn’t matter that I was following that was taken down (shows up in a google search but the page comes up unavailable). Is an explanation in order, or does the arbitrariness that governs apostolic statements also govern this website?

  37. The author took down the post. It was the author’s decision alone. No explanation is necessary. Authors have total discretion with regard to their posts.

    No need for the snark at the end. We can ask civilly without jabs at anyone.

    ***Back to the discussion of this post.***

  38. I have a testimony and want to know more “truth”. How does one live “in the world but not of the world?”
    If a Church is set up for those who have a testimony and want to know more truth, does it not make sense to belong to this Church and abide by its rules and regulations?

    The “source” of truth has given several directives and commandments to those that have a testimony and want to know more truth for the purpose of “bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”.
    Can one achieve this goal of immortality and eternal life by being independant and free thinking? – to what degree?
    Those who have testimonies have been given access to another great gift – a roadmap, as to how to live in the world, but not of the world.

    But where does one “learn” how to use the roadmap and not hurt others who are also pursuing this same goal?

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