Mormonism has always been a home to members with many different religious temperaments, levels of belief, attitudes toward authority, and commitment to and comfort within the community. Still, even with this diversity, Mormonism has often felt to many members (and certainly to most outsiders) as monolithic—if the diversity is there, it hasn’t always been easy to find those “like you.”
Indeed, much of this sense and appearance of unity came as a result of the efforts of the institutional church to deliberately set and convey fairly rigid boundaries about what constituted orthodoxy and orthopraxis, and who was and was not a Mormon “in good standing.” Thanks in large part to the Internet revolution and the powerful networking it allows, this situation seems to be changing. Latter-day Saints are no longer looking quite as much to the institution for such definitions. Church members along many different spectrums of belief, practice, and commitment are finding each other and declaring their identities as Mormons, even if they fail to align very closely with the mainstream,
In this week’s episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Joanna Brooks, Jared Anderson, and Blair Hodges explore various aspects of this new moment, this explosion among Latter-day Saints who don’t feel they fit the standard, institutional identity to begin to categorize themselves within the tradition’s larger tent. What challenges and issues have led to this eruption of felt need for broader ways to identify oneself? What positive purposes do the labels people are using to describe themselves and their place within the larger tradition serve? Are there drawbacks to these labels, especially ones that seem to work to distance those persons from particular aspects of Mormonism or religious “styles” that don’t match with theirs? Can the needs of all these different types of Mormons be met within one community, or do literal belief and a comfort with exploration of complexities (even doubt) need to be quarantined from each other? What are some of the ways the panelists are finding homes for themselves within this broad and wonderfully diverse LDS community?
After you listen, please join in the discussion below!
Dan, you seem to have anticipated my concerns precisely. After last week’s podcast I was very troubled by the quickly growing trend I have observed with so many of your panelist’s need to label and categorize. I find this impulse to be counter-productive to the notion of personal liberation and self-actualization. I enjoy listening to the issues, beliefs and practices that people believe define them individually, but find the practice of negative determinance less than ideal. And what exactly, aside from an acronym for true believing Mormon, is a TBM?
-I look forward to listening to the podcast tomorrow when I have time…
Enjoyed the pod cast Dan thank you for all your work.
Dan when you contrast the closed nature of the Amish community and what you call the open nature of the Mormon community I think that there is much more of a bases of comparison than a contrast. When you look at the time commitment that is required to truly be active. 3 hours of church plus meetings, having a calling, home and visiting teaching, then all of the reading you are asked to do, Sunday school lessen, priesthood and relief society lesson, 30 minutes of personal book of Mormon reading, family Book of Mormon reading, the Ensign for the current month and studying the conference issue, than daily journal writing, going to the temple once a month, plus all the other meetings like stake priesthood meeting. The list goes on. How many active Mormons have enough time to have any close friends out side of their ward much less are able to consider any information from outside correlated sources. Yes Mormonism may on its face may seem more open than the Amish faith but I am not sure.
I don’t at all remember talking about the Amish in contrast to Mormons in this episode, and I think when I brought it up it in the first of the two episodes on YSAs, it was in terms of the strategy some groups have of managing pluralism through an attempt at “quarantine,” which I’m not seeing as the point you’re making here. So, give that, all I can really do is react to your note as if it were a general comment and not truly jumping off something I said. Given that, it’s hard to disagree with you that for some people “doing” Mormonism full bore includes most of the time and activity commitments you’re listing here, and I’m sure there are 10 to 15 percent of active Mormons who really strive to keep a schedule similar to the one you describe. On the other hand, I really do see it as quite a small slice, and I don’t sense a large backlash or attempt to make feel uncomfortable those who aren’t quite that engaged. Furthermore, I contend that most Mormons–active ones included–still have close friends outside their wards and even read and listen to and are influenced by non-correlated sources. Most Mormons have television and Internet, and they hear plenty of encouragement to engage the world and seek out the best of what’s out there–and I think most do. In these ways, I see genuine contrast with closed, quarantine, withdraw-from-the-world (though still actively trying to serve it via their example and/or through a powerful prayer ministry, etc.) groups like the Amish.
Yikes! It just dawned on me, Gail, that you may have listened to episode
29 rather than 34. From when I posted the podcast until about 7am this
morning, the episode linked to this site was wrong (Ep 29 instead of
34). It was right on iTunes, so those who downloaded there should have
gotten the right one. All fixed here, now, too, but very sorry if that’s
what happened. And I can’t remember if I talked about the Amish in
Thank you yes I did re-listen to the older pod cast, and yes I do agree with the specifics of your arguments, but I do not believe the examples you site are not typical. I think most Mormons even educated Mormons are typically over whelmed with raising kids and trying to keep up with the demands of the church which they have internalized. Also, most of my family and friends that are active have an internalized fear of any info that is not in harmony with correlated materials labeling them anti Mormon lit.. I know none of them would articulate it this way but they seem to believe if you read any “anti” it will remove all ability to discern truth or the spirit.
I am the youngest of seven all of us have been married in the temple. My parents have served 3 missions: Fiji, New Guinea, and Australia. My brothers and I all served missions and two of us married return missionaries. This past Christmas my sister that served a mission was telling me that I was off track supporting gay marriage because it is against what the Prophet is asking from us. What I say is being a Prophet does not make him perfect. I ask how would you have reacted if you lived under Brigham Young when he said that the way to deal with any one who mixes their seed with those of the African raise is death on the spot. She said I do not believe he said that. I said he did several times some of them conferences. She then through tears said “you spend all your time looking under rocks to justify your view. I don’t know how you have time for that. I hardly have time to read my scriptures and raise my family in the church.” I had gone too far.
I mostly agree with the panel of this pod cast that we should be respectful of others beliefs and some times hold our tung, but I often find it difficult for a year during prop 8 I sat in church holding my tung when week after week people got up in church saying things I saw as an attack on my loved ones and my family. It is difficult to sit quietly when the church motivates members to give millions to attack families like mine yet even when my bishop apologized in privet to me saying that he did not agree with the things members would say in sacrament about homosexuals, comments he felt powerless to stop, but he told me if I said anything on the subject he would stop me. Not that I wanted to. I have never have thought that church was the venue for this, but more conservative members sure do. I think the derogatory use of TBM is a back lash against this type of one sided talorance.
I also agree that using labels about belief does more to define us than it defines others. We as Mormons define our selfs around belief a lot. I think it starts in Fast meeting. We are instructed to testify of the truthfulness of the gospel, and what do we say “I know the church is true”. What does that even mean? Does it not mean something different for everyone who says it. By the same token what does it mean to say that I am not a TBM? Or that they are a TBM? I think we limit our identity when we speak in these terms.
How do I make this work? I love the part of me that is and always be Mormon. I also still love my word members. Even though I no longer attend more than a few times a year. They are nice to me when they see me in the store, or at church, or every year when I attend the Father and Sons camp out, but they do not treat me the same. They seem to not know how to talk to me. They seem to avoid all the questions they would like to ask. I always see it in their eyes, I am no longer part of the circle of people that are one of them. This brakes my heart.
This is all complicated when I listen to Elder Packer’s talk in November. Or when I see Elder Oaks travailing around the church claiming that the gay agenda is to force the church to preform same sex marriages in the temple. I am periphrasing here. This not only is a complete misrepresentation of the equality movement, but is not a possibility if you have read the Constitution, which I assume he has. And many members seem to believe that him being an apostle trumps the inacurasy and imposability of his claims. Also when I have siblings that just can’t believe that my gay sister decided not to visit my brother when he said she was welcome but her partner of 7 years was not welcome my siblings tell me that she wants us to be tolerant of her, but she will not tolerate our beliefs. Hearing a sibling berate our sister this way. I then quoted Elder Packer “I give you a strong caution. Be wary of the word tolarance…..We are not required to tolarate anything that leads to unhappiness…..Tolarance is often demanded and seldom returned. Beware of tolarance. It is a very unstable virtue.” And once again when I should shut up instead I told this sibling that I agree with president Packer, and I done tolerating the bigotry that attacks families like my sisters and my own.
What do I do with my desire to affiliate when few of my fellow members count me as one of them and I some times feel that the very organization I desire affiliation seems to have mounted a war against my family?
Wow, very powerful words, Gail. Many of your experiences are similar to mine with my gay sister. I cannot apologize to her enough for the way I treated her for so many years. I wish you the best getting past so many hateful experiences towards you!
Thanks for sharing your experiences and frustrations. I am sorry you’re going through all of this–so unnecessary, too, dang it. Nothing harder than living in separate thought and experience worlds than those you love–and not having handy language to bridge the two. All my best! And I think your “I’m done tolerating bigotry that attacks…” response is a powerful strategy. Sometimes you simply have to say stuff.
Here are links to two of the things discussed in this episode.
Blair Hodges blog post about why he urges caution in using the term “TBM”
Orson Scott Card’s Mormon Times column about Huntsman’s failure of nerve and argument that it is not “tough to define” if one is Mormon or not
Now that church membership is entering its tenth generation, we have to realize that though converts may self select for the church membership ‘profile’, that does not eliminate the rich variety of people born into the church who do not fit the church’s demographic.
Wonderful podcast. I always enjoy these discussions. I don’t normally comment, but I wanted an opinion regarding something that was said during the podcast. I don’t remember quite how it was expressed, but Jared Anderson expressed the opinion that it was best to use caution when talking about individual beliefs that aren’t quite so orthodox when around more orthodox Mormons so as not to take away what they have as more literal believers. I’m a recent ex-Mormon, but most of my family are still very much pretty literal in their beliefs. I haven’t even told my family that I’ve left the church, or my specific beliefs on why. They know that I don’t attend church and that I’m gay and I have a big problem with the Church’s stance on homosexuality, but that’s about all they know. My disaffection started with the church’s stance on prop 8, but now goes far beyond that. My question is, do you think that it’s unfair of me to tell them that I no longer believe in the church and go into specifics as to why? My belief is that it’s better to hear other opinions about things, so that people can at least be informed about other points of view. I guess my motives are a bit selfish, as well, as I would like my voice to be heard and would like people to try to understand where I’m coming from. I can see how that might shake up a person’s world and cause them to have to deal with issues that they really don’t want to. Now I’m not sure what I should do. Like I said, I’m just looking for some more perspective on that issue, if anyone would care to share.
Thanks again for the great work you all do on these podcasts.
Great question Trevor. A more precise way of saying what I was trying to express is that I try not to dismantle peoples’ faith *unproductively*. Or proactively, but that is more because it is ineffective to shove things down throats.
I look at religion in a very practical way, in terms of costs and benefits. I was speaking of historical and philosophical details that don’t have much to do with the mechanics of faith. I am a Bible scholar, and my historical concerns have very little to do with a father giving his sick daughter a blessing or other moving and productive manifestations of spirituality.
I put Prop 8 and related issues in a different category, however. These are *ethical* issues, and I think it is our responsibility to speak out and try to change opinions. The benefit of ignorance does not outweigh the damage caused by that ignorance. So I am openly pro-gay rights, anti-Prop 8 (think it was one of the dumbest and most damaging mistakes the Church has made), etc.
I think it is productive to examine our motivations. As Joanna mentioned, of course we want to be known and loved for who we are. I also think we need to take into account the resistance we will face when we try to present challenging information. My heart breaks when I think how so many active members vilify and dismiss those who struggle or leave. I strongly feel that God would condemn that attitude.
I would encourage you to prayerfully seek to know how best to communicate with your family and help them understand your concerns. Very often having a loved one who doesn’t fit the standard paradigm is a transformative experience. Carol Lynn Pearson has a wonderful line: “when dogma collides with personal experience”.
I wish you the best in your journey.
Thanks Jared. I understand what you’re saying and that makes complete sense. I’ll definitely think long and hard about how to move forward with my family.
Trevor: keep us posted. it’s not an easy position you’re in. but claiming the reality of your experience is different than abstractly questioning doctrine. you are mormon. and you are gay. that’s who you are. you deserve to have the chance to be honest and loved.
Thanks Jb. I will keep you posted 🙂
Stupid question here . . . I cannot find this episode on iTunes, but I can see all the others. Is this just a user problem with me or are others having this problem.
As long as I’m posting, I’d like to thank you for all the time you have dedicated to various Mormon Stories/Mormon Matters podcasts. I’ve really enjoyed them and sincerely thank you for your efforts.
Glad you’re enjoying these, and you’re welcome! I am really enjoying the process of creating them–I mean talking with Joanna and so many other great folk each week, it’s heaven!–and I am glad so many people are finding them (more than 2000 downloads per episode now and growing!) –and then finding them worthwhile!
I have been able to successfully download this episode via iTunes on both my PC and my Mac. I did replace the file on iTunes last night about 11pm when a friend alerted me about a crazy spelling error in the title, so perhaps you tried during that window when the feed might have been messed up as the new info was loading? Other than that, I can’t think of what might be causing a hiccup. Please try again and let me know if you see it yet. And I hope others will alert me if I need to re-do the feed again or something else to fix if it remains a problem.
Dan, I can see this eposode on ITunes now. Thanks – look forward to listening.
Very interesting discussion…thanks guys, as usual. I had no idea there was so much energy behind the term “TBM.” I’ve used it frequently…and probably like a few said, a bit belittling years ago. But I have evolved to see the term endearingly today, as the Mormon tent has grown bigger, and didn’t know that members saw it as negative. Good to know. But it brought up a comparison (especially as Blair mentioned the RFM board) to something I have energy with…”anti-mormon.” In conversation, and some forums in the bloggernacle, that term seems to be used, by many, as alabel for anybody who is not a believer (in the church). This is not true, and I find it quite offensive (as an exmormon), and perceive (admittedly incorrect at times) that it is a cop-out to pit the believer against the non-believer. As this podcast, and the “movement” to enlarge the tent is showing, there are many kinds of mormons…and even as a lapsed, former, or ex…mormon, and I will commit to not use the TBM term like I previously did…and hope that others will be sensitive to the negativity the label “anti-mormon” stirs up in many of us that enjoy many aspects of mormonism.
Rick, you’ll notice I extend my concerns about labels and their rhetorical affects to things like “anti-Mormon” and “apostate,” etc. The pitting against is a chief concern, whether the label is TBM or anti-Mormon, and we recognize that not everyone who employs such labels does so with a mean intent.
What about the label “critic of the church.”? That seems to be FAIR/FARMS’
Yes Blair, and I very much appreciate that. I suppose it goes back to the common thought, “if you are not with me, you are against me;” so many see exmormons clearly as “not with me.” I admit there is much vitriol and anger amongst the exmormon community, and I understand why. I like to participate a bit here to support those with much anger — it just seems to be so counterproductive to any goal they would want, and I think these dialogues are really helpful. Thanks again!
What about the label “critic of the church.”? That seems to be FAIR/FARMS’
new “n-word.” Do you support that label?
I’ve used “critic” myself, and even “apostate,” but I tend to try and specify what IO mean by those terms. “apostate,” for instance, can be used in an academic sense, though it is rarely worth it based on the baggage it brings along. My personal decision regarding whether a label can be applied reasonably depends partially on whether the person I am describing would feel comfortable with such a label. Like “TBM,” it isn’t intrinsically negative, but it can connote negativity to certain people. This is a rambling way of repeating what I rambled about in the podcast, which is that I don’t have a strict rubric about labels, but I try to consider their rhetorical affects on myself, the labeled person, and onlookers generally.
Before last year I had never heard of the term TBM. I didn’t even know what it was an acronym for. I think I figured it out by context after a while. Although I do not use the term myself I don’t see a problem with it, although I did hear your reasons for dislike. I think its presumptuous to tell people what terms they should use or not use to describe themselves, others, or a belief system, which is how I see the term. To me it describes a belief system not necessarily an individual. To many the belief system embodied by the term TBM have been a source of pain and disillusionment.
If using such terms help people redefine and reformulate their belief system and determine where their new level of faith is, that’s good. In the podcast you said, just call yourself Mormon. Well, there is a lot that I don’t identify with in being “Mormon” anymore. There is much that is good about “Mormon” but much that is destructive and causes tremendous pain. So if someone wants to use the term TBM to describe a level of belief that they no longer espouse, Im ok with it.
The non-traditional mormon community has been a life saver for me, I hope it dosent go down the road towards political correctness.
KC, the problem is projecting the negative aspects of your former experience onto people who remain in the Church relatively comfortably. This isn’t an argument about “political correctness,” it’s an argument about the way we understand ourselves and others, and the way we label those understandings.
Second time posting this. As an exmormon, I’d hope that any time RfM gets held up as an example of exmo anger, that the person telling the cautionary tale would be fair enough to note that there are now many much better online venues for exmos. For example, a quick visit to iamanexmormon.com would direct listeners/readers to a nice list of healthy exmo sites.
“The worst thing in the world isn’t suffering–it is suffering alone.”
Every time a new order/liberal/uncorrelated/unorthodox Mormon decides to keep their mouth shut to protect the testimony of a TBM/orthodox/strict Mormon, I believe they are potentially leaving someone to struggle through a faith crisis on their own.
Not to target Jared, but I think his concern for the delicate faith of orthodox Mormons is a little one-sided. In my bitter phase of leaving the church and then finding out about all the issues, I was most angry at those who knew what was going on and never said anything to me. How can I be angry at those believers who know little or nothing?
Humans are happiest when they have the best access to facts. How can someone make a good decision when they don’t have the information. If people don’t want to know, then I drop it. But I don’t start with the assumption that people’s faith is delicate and needs to be protected from my ideas. If their faith is that frail, then maybe it does need to transform.
I sure wish the unorthodox Mormons would have spoken up in my ward, then maybe I would have had the comfort of knowing I was not alone. Thank God we have the Internet now so people like me can find a campfire to join when the global Mormon village effectively kicks them out.
@4b547a9424d8f3a73755e326623908f3:disqus , I with you am deeply grateful for the internet communities where uncorrelated and other types of Mormons can enjoy “full fellowship”.
As I said in the discussion, I do try to share as much as I feel is appropriate in the situation. I make it clear that I am available if anyone has any questions. When you were struggling, did you reach out to anyone? I try to be responsive rather than proactive, meeting people where they are and helping them as best I can. If you and I were in the same ward, I would like to imagine we would have positive one on one discussions. I hope you didn’t get the idea that I never share anything. Quite the contrary; I just try to share with wisdom.
What is the alternative? Should we share everything we know with everyone? Should we have a pile of books on history to hand out, whether people are interested or not?
My goal is that believers across the spectrum can get what they need. I try to be a resource in serving them according to those needs. We all have our different belief languages and approaches. I am working on organizing a quarterly question-answer session with those in the ward Sunday School (I am in the presidency).
“Humans are happiest when they have the best access to facts.” What “facts”? Are all “facts” of equal value? I don’t think so. It is not so much a matter of faith being “frail” as a question of costs, benefits, and priorities. I don’t think it is productive to force information on people that they do not desire or have the framework to appreciate. The reality of their subjective faith experience is as valid as the reality of our questions and desire to seek and know. Again, why privilege one approach over the other?
I therefore try to model an approach where I focus on the principles I feel are most useful and important but also expose people to the more complicated details. And if they want to know more about the latter, I am delighted to share them.
Based on how you described your interactions with people at church in the podcast, it seems like you really do share a lot of what you think or feel even though it may not be aligned with orthodoxy. That’s why I am confused when it comes across to me that you feel like you have an obligation to protect the faith of others.
I guess it feels to me like you are approving of the institutional filtering of information. I wish I would have had some of this information when I was about eighteen. I appreciate all the work that you and the others have done to broaden Mormonism. I just still struggle to understand how people deal with plurality in the manner you describe without feeling superior.
My current view is that the information is out there, and even if we have all the same information we probably won’t come to the same conclusion. That doesn’t bother me too much. This approach doesn’t make me feel like I have a responsibility to protect others from my own thoughts and ideas. I should be just as proactive as Elder Oaks at proclaiming my understanding of truth.
I’ll keep listening. Someday I’ll probably understand better.
My approach does presuppose two primary factors:
1) That spirituality is real and beneficial. I know so many people who experience very clear revelation and guidance, feel the love and comfort of God, and experience even more dramatic miracles. In brief, religion works.
2) There is a cost to intensive philosophical, historical, and critical inquiry. There are also benefits, but I am concerned about people losing the benefits of #1 without gaining an equally useful replacement framework.
Filtering of information is inevitable. I do approve of it, though I don’t agree with how it is being done currently. There are glimmers of light here and there.
Let me give you an example. I am divorced and remarried. I used to think that my future wife should “be able to handle” reading my journal from my first marriage. It is true after all right? Those are the “facts”. But the reality is that we are constantly choosing which information to focus on. Yes, my wife could read those earlier journals, but the costs would far outweigh the minuscule benefits.
Now, if someone put me in charge of all Church teaching, of course I would do it differently. I would bring up concerns without focusing on them (e.g., while studying 2 Nephi I would bring up the multiple authorship of Isaiah, say we will focus on the message of the Book of Mormon chapters, but that I will be glad to answer questions if there are any). Then we should have access to more detailed information for those who want it.
You stated, My approach does presuppose two primary factors:
1) That spirituality is real and beneficial. I know so many people who experience very clear revelation and guidance, feel the love and comfort of God, and experience even more dramatic miracles. In brief, religion works.
I have also heard you talk about priesthood blessings and faith necessary to heal your child or something like this.
My question is: What do you think it going on here? Is this the placebo effect, or is there something supernatural going on? In my own experience I have also had spiritual experiences but now I don’t really know how to interpret those anymore. I used to attribute them to the workings of the “spirit” but I have also had very clear inspiration/revelations that did not hold up. They were dead ends. They turned out to be false direction or did not pan out. Ive also given my children blessings that seemed inspired and full of faith but had no effect.
So, again, is spirituality, revelations, comfort of God, miracles really something beyond the power of belief from our own minds?
@96cde25443e038b70c4f190400f706bd:disqus , would it be a cop out to say that there are multiple things going on and that revelation is likely a mixture of our own expectations combined with connecting to something greater? I think it is a complicated task to discern where we end and where illumination from above begins.
I know we can all relate to what you are saying… I have had both spiritual experiences that seem undeniable and those that have not really panned out.
I really do think that spirituality is a connection to something greater, even if that something greater is wisdom beyond our conscious awareness, or something like collective unconscious, or a divine personal being. It really is a wonderful feeling to feel like you are connecting to something greater or receiving wisdom beyond your own don’t you think?
I framed a paper around biblical studies but I think it is applicable to how we can separate ourselves from the transcendent in revelation.http://www.scribd.com/doc/54745467/Revelation-according-to-Expectations
Please push me if I have not been clear enough; this is a really important topic!
Jared, I really respect your contributions and insights. Your paper is very interesting. I need to read it at
least a dozen more times to understand it fully. I really like your new testament analysis (loved your mormon
stories pod cast). Im not convinced on the book of mormon stuff, but give you kudos on trying to make sense of
it. As to JS, I understand your idea of God talking to him according to his understanding and expectations.
But how do you reconcile with the fact that many of his revelations were changed and altered (book of
commandments to DC). Many of the revelations seemed more like he was producing a revelation rather than
receiving something from God. Some are magnificent some seem to convenient. So the idea that it is God that is
speaking to us according to our understanding and expectation is difficult to separate from what our own psyche is generating, based on our beliefs and expectations of God.
Case in point. All my life I had spiritual experiences, revelations, inspiration, experienced things I believed
were from the divine. Some worked some did not. Sometimes I found the missing eyeglasses I had been praying to find (in one case it was a miracle) other times I had direct spiritual guidance that did not work (think of
the angel telling JS the plates are buried at Cummorah, but when he gets there, there are no plates). Where is
the line between the power of belief and a personal God who literally hears our prayers and through some
metaphysical means answers them?
Since my faith crises in which the founding truth narratives of Mormonism have been deconstructed as well as the scriptures (all of them) I don’t experience the same inspiration as I once did, although I still pray for
wisdom and answers as much as I did before but the heavens seem much more silent now.
Wow, our comments are getting REALLY narrow. 🙂
@96cde25443e038b70c4f190400f706bd:disqus , you probably gathered from my podcast and other writings that I don’t believe any more the way I describe in that 2007 paper. We are all on a journey. 🙂
I have no problem with changed revelations. “According to our expectations” means that our understanding and expectations change as we develop and grow. I would not only expect but hope that those spiritually in tune would update their understanding…. we are all in that same process! In fact, as I state in the end of that paper I embrace a model where we remain ever aware of our limitations and situatedness and all sources of information to maximize our connection to “greater wisdom”.
“the heavens seem much more silent now”.
I think this is one of the most important issues to wrestle with. It is exactly this to which I am referring when I say our way is not better than literal belief, just has different costs and benefits.
Perhaps a poetic way to put it would be that even though we can no longer be shaken, neither can we be moved as we once were? I am very interested in exploring how we can experience a spirituality of comparable intensity as both agnostic or believer.
“the heavens seem much more silent now”. I think this is one of the most important issues to wrestle with. It is exactly this to which I am referring when I say our way is not better than literal belief, just has different costs and benefits. Perhaps a poetic way to put it would be that even though we can no longer be shaken, neither can we be moved as we once were? I am very interested in exploring how we can experience a spirituality of comparable intensity as both agnostic or believer.
Excellent sumation. I finally understand what you are saying when you say “our way is not better than literal belief, just has different costs and benefits. ”
that makes total since now. Thanks for working through this with me.
That said, the internet gives less and less room for the comfort of naiveté. I agree that it is urgently important to acknowledge the type of issues people are having and information available and provide safe and trusted sources to help address issues that come up.
Valid point, Jacob. I think we are in a time of transition…and it seems that the majority of active Mormons do not view uncorrelated Mormons as okay. In fact, they often see them as “wolves in sheeps clothing,” etc; so I can see Jared’s points too. I admire Jared and others who can remain actively involved– I think it helps expand the diversity in the church, and triggers self examination/thought, which is always a good thing. Hopefully, in the future, it will be more acceptable to have diverse beliefs in the same church.
Nice talk, guys. Inspiring even.
So interesting that I ran across this today, as I spent much of my day talking with a fellow Mormon friend who thinks I should no longer consider myself a Mormon. I no longer accept as full truth the things that I was taught about the church. In fact, I guess I accept none of it, as I now consider myself a non-theist. So listening to this was great for me. It is a real issue, and fraught with tension on many levels. But I am Mormon. My name is on the records of the church. And even if my name is eventually removed, I will be a Mormon for the rest of my life. (I too grew up on Janeen Brady!) And for the record, I do not mean anything at all negative when I use the term TBM. I used to be one, I am married to one, and all my family are TBM. I use it only to differentiate the fact that I now believe differently from them, but I don’t want to destroy their faith or in any way belittle their experiences. Thanks for this!
I was interested in the comment about “true belief” or “orthodoxy” (or whatever you want to label it) being able to thrive only in isolation. At first I wanted to disagree completely… I think historic, orthodox Mormonism can and does hold its own in the world. On further reflection, I still disagree, but only partly.
As I thought about it some more, I realized that it’s possible to come by what we think of orthodoxy by different paths. And if we come to it because that’s what we were raised in, and because we spent our lives in a highly correlated community only having significant interactions with others who shared that belief system, then yes, I agree that kind of orthodoxy is very vulnerable to exposure to other ways of thinking/believing and/or identifying oneself as Mormon.
But if you come to it experientially, that is a different thing entirely. That kind of orthodoxy can thrive in the world, in a very diverse environment. People can lose faith… Or they can lose a naive version of the faith. And then they can come back to it once they’ve had a chance to try and test it out in the world.
It’s just to say, just because two people talk about their faith in similar ways doesn’t mean that faith works the same way for those two people. There are many different kinds of “true believing Mormons.”
Others in the blogosphere have applied the label “true believing Mormon” to me, and, though I don’t use the TBM label to identify myself, I’m OK with it because I accept the basic narrative about the Church’s origins, I accept the Book of Mormon as true, I believe in the doctrines, I have a testimony. At the same time I’m gay and I’m in a same-sex relationship and I’m excommunicated, so I guess a lot of other folks who might fit under the “true believing Mormon” wouldn’t consider me a real Mormon. My bishop says I’m “99%” there, whatever that means! 🙂 Though he also says that the 1% matters.
But oddly, orthodox Mormon belief and practice has helped me come to terms with the big life and death stresses and challenges in life, including in my relationship. It has given me courage and faith and patience to deal with the negative reactions I get from people in my own faith community (in the faith community I’ve chosen). It’s helped me nurture and strengthen my relationship with my husband and grow as a person. Most importantly, its helped me foster a living, dynamic relationship with God.
I think an overly correlated faith is probably not healthy for faith. Faith is a tool kit people use do deal with life and the world. If you over correlate it, what you’re actually doing is you’re impoverishing it. You’re taking stuff away that people might be able to use… But I think it is possible that we will see correlation run its course. Mormonism is way too rich and too powerful to be correlated forever. Correlated forms of faith may not be able to survive in the long run in comparison with the vibrant real stuff that just grows naturally from human life, love and experience…
I have one other thought…
As interesting as this conversation was, I would trade a million conversations like this just for the ability to take the sacrament again.
Very poignant @google-1e18056cd2d851374ee989bb6e1bd640:disqus . I wish we had the authority to grant you that.
What are your thoughts about taking the sacrament on your own? I believe doing so could be a very meaningful experience potentially. I think God’s approval extends far beyond the Church and what the Church does…..
Because of my testimony of the Church, and because of personal convictions I have about the importance of “good order” and respecting priesthood keys, I would never just take the sacrament on my own. That would feel wrong — maybe even verging on sinful — to me. My taking the sacrament needs to be a symbol of my full participation in the Church according to the good order and rules of the Church.
I “partake” by praying while the sacrament is passed, and by making the covenants in my heart to take Christ’s name upon me and do the best I can to obey his commandments throughout the week. I feel that is appropriate, and the best I can do under the circumstances. And I do feel the Spirit, and I’ve actually had some pretty incredible spiritual experiences in that context.
I know I am OK with God… That’s not the issue. The Church is true, and the priesthood is real, but it is delegated to mortals who have limited understanding, and who have to work in order to get the complete picture from God. The process of perfecting the Church and working out the various problems and issues in the Church that make things difficult for folks in my situation or in similar situations is a real-time historical process, and so a big part of faith for me is having patience with that process and trusting that in time the Lord — who is the actual head of the Church — will work everything out with his less than perfect disciples, who are still working their salvation out in mortality.
One scripture verse that’s been significant for me is the passage in Mark where Jesus tells the disciples at the last supper: “I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14: 25). I think about that a lot… I think, maybe that’s when I’ll be able to take the sacrament again too…
JGW – We need to have you on for a Mormon Stories podcast, brother. And soon. Jared — wanna do it?
@johndehlin:disqus are you asking whether I would want to conduct the interview? In what capacity are you imagine me participating?
@google-1e18056cd2d851374ee989bb6e1bd640:disqus , you have my deepest respect for your integrity. I was very touched by your feelings you express here. And I love your appropriation of the messianic banquet in the Kingdom of God tradition. Brilliant and powerful.
Thank you, John, for sharing your approach and your feelings about the church. I was very touched as well. I hope for the day when that “limited understanding” expands & I do believe you are helping to hasten that day with your patient example. Blessings.
Yes, I agree! A nuanced answer takes the most courage. Huntsman was straightforward, and I’m sorry people have taken that as lacking courage.
“Yes, I’m Mormon, but not necessarily in the way you think.”
I wasn’t impressed in the way Romney tried to make mormonism sound more like ‘main stream christianity’
I thought that showed an incredible weakness. I’m not an orthodox mormon, but I wish he had said, “Whether or not you think I’m christian, I take Christ as my personal savior. But I’m not going to change my belief to fit your definition of christianity, call it what you will.”
When Blair mentions that the students learning English as a second (or third etc.,) language and the idea of letting them label themselves, it reminded me of when I was first learning American Sign Language. In our class, we were taught about name signs and how they are typically chosen (basically, you initialize a sign for something else, so if you smile a lot, you would use the finger spelling sign for the first letter of your name to sign ‘smile’), but one of the things the teacher told us was that the deaf community as a group largely disagreed with the idea of an individual choosing their own name sign. Instead, the community at large was responsible for that choice. Self-labeling, as it were, was frowned on. It was considered especially ‘uncouth’ for a hearing person to choose their own name sign because they were an outsider to the community. I think that could be telling in relation to the way Mormon’s label themselves or the way ‘outsiders’ might label us.
Interesting comparison, Lizanell. (I sign, too, btw!)
I was just re-reading your original post Blair and thought of another comparison related to the ESL/ELL students. When I studied special education in school we spent a good deal of time talking about person first language. Instead of identifying someone primarily by their disability, you instead identify them primarily as a person; the disability is secondary. For example, instead of a calling someone a ‘downs child’, you would call them a ‘child with downs syndrome’. The ‘deaf kid’ becomes the ‘kid who is deaf’. It was considered a very significant difference, albeit a semantic one. I think that idea could totally apply here (although I am not sure I am comfortable with the idea that belief or lack of belief could be equated with a disabilty). Rather than calling someone a TBM, you would instead identify them as an individual who still believes in the tenets of the LDS church….unwieldy, but more respectful and less emotionally charged? Not sure how it would translate, but I think the idea has merit.
Its unwieldiness is its strength. Rather than essentializing someone into a single concept that we can start filling with emotion and belief until the concept is solidified sufficiently to stereotype future people, each person must be understood on her/his own terms.
Jason – If your comments are ever moderated again…you just let me know, k? Your brother John.
Moderated? How? Certainly not on purpose on my end. Did you find the post in some sort of queue?
Dan – Not sure what happened…but yeah…found the comment as deleted. No biggie. We’ll just keep an eye on it. I let Jason know it wasn’t you or me.
Well said, Chino. In my early disaffection phase I spent time at RFM, and FAIR/MA&D — I found both to have major vitriolic, ad hominem attacks at the “other side.” I suppose we can call it balance. I just found that it wasn’t until these more moderate, compassionate, and truly supportive forums like Mormon Stories came around that I felt I could feel comfortable posting my feelings without fear of attack. I think for most of us, we appreciate discussing our experiences — whether we correctly interpret the meaning or not — and hope that responders will at least not question whether we really had these experiences. That was an obvious non-starter for me at both sites…and have found many better forums today.
I know the conclusion was to NOT adjectivize, but I keep asking the question, “What would Open Source Mormonism” look like?
Open Source Mormonism, first and foremost, keeps in mind the spirit of open inquiry espoused by Joseph Smith. When a bunch of high priests wanted to un-Mormonize a fellow high-priest for wrong-mindedness, Joseph headed them off at the pass saying: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodists and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled.”
Secondly, Open Source Mormonism would look a lot like other open source movements, built around crowd-sourcing, sharing, and collaboration. It would look very scattered, locally-sourced and customized, and definitely not hierarchical nor overly-correlated. Several of the panelists alluded to what Seth Godin excellently describes in his book and TED talks on Tribes. Second-and-a-half, Open Source Mormonism would be all about community building, both cyber and brick/mortar. See Jono Bacon’s excellent advice on the art of community online. (http://goo.gl/zSrf4)
Thirdly, it would create an open information ecosystem that was self-referential and self-correcting. There was a great example over on the Mormon Expression community Facebook board this week. Somebody had made the connection between Harold Camping’s recent failed apocalyptic predictions, and Elder Oaks’ 2004 talk wherein he asserted an increasing frequency of natural disasters, concluding we should all take that as a motivation to prepare for the Second Coming. Well, of course we recently heard Duane Jefferey mention in the MM episode on Natural Disasters (#25, about 27 minutes in) the story of an un-named “high church leader,” who had asserted an increasing frequency of natural disasters, and how a geology professor from BYU quietly corrected the church leader. And yet did we see a Ronald Poelman-like re-filming of the talk, or even an errata mention in the Ensign? Go ahead Elder Oaks, create your own Facebook page. We’ll sustain you, but you have to understand that correcting you is part of the bargain.
Fourth, Creative Commons Licensing would be the rule for all intellectual property, not the exception. Creative Commons License recognizes that whatever content I create can get transmogrified by others to suit their needs, perhaps not always in ways I might anticipate, or even necessarily approve of. Yes, it might even involve taking my narrative and modifying it to use frogs for, ahem, medicinal purposes. Take a minute and look at Jonathan Coulton’s songs, and the plethora of hysterical Youtube videos people have mashed up onto his songs. Yes, there’s even an ASL version of Coulton’s bawdy “First of May,” albeit terribly NSFSM.
Harold B. Lee once publicly skewered Richard Poll’s notion of Liahona Mormons, deriding them as just lacking a testimony. However, computational models have actually demonstrated that societies are better when there are two approaches to information gathering and sharing, as opposed to just one. But the simple truth is, we need all kinds of Mormons. If we only row on one side of the boat, we’ll just go around in circles.
What a delightful and substantive comment @twitter-20766268:disqus . Thanks for sharing; sign me up!! I love that this is already happening because of social media and the information on the internet regardless of what the leaders do.
From this statement, I infer that you’re not familiar with real-world, large scale Open Source software projects. I think your idea of what they are is a bit romantic/misguided.
OSS projects have lead teams (sometimes volunteers, sometimes recruited, sometimes full time and paid), code review, code commit rules, structure for committing to the main trunk of code. Changes bubble up from below, but are almost always scrutinized by a gatekeeper.
It is “open” in the sense that you can take the material, make your own copy, change it how you want, and use it. Almost never “open” in the sense that all changes flow upstream in a free form matter.
Almost all *successful*, *growing*, *useful*, *alive* OSS projects I can think of are “correlated” heavily.
Where did you find that quote from Joseph Smith? I would love to have known about that long ago … as one of the main reasons I stopped practicing Mormonism was because of the insistence (at least that was how I experienced it at the time) that I profess belief in and even “knowledge of” things I just did not and do not believe (as in, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt … blah blah blah”). I’ve always identified as a Mormon and would be happy to practice the lifestyle and community rituals of Mormonism … I miss that part of it a lot. But is there really a place in Mormonism for someone who doesn’t believe the whole Joseph Smith story, not to mention the question of God (or not)? Anyway — very interesting podcast.
I was so sad when I listened to this podcast. Maybe I got the wrong impression but it sure sounded to me that the group was saying: Please don’t offend. (Agreed) Please be careful and keep quiet about your differing beliefs. Please don’t label anyone because it only hurts you, so call yourself Mormon because we are all so diverse.
My experience– I was in a presidency and disagreed about the way our meetings were conducted. The g roup disagreed with me. A few months later I mentioned the same issue with what I thought could be a win-win solution. I was out. They were uncomfortable with me and went to the Bishop, who felt his hands were tied, no one in the ward liked me he said, so I could have no callings. I was treated like I was being disfellowshiped. I had given 35 years of service to the church , 15 of those years were to that ward. This is back when I believed 99% of what they believed–it was the 1% disagreement that mattered. That was 8 years ago and my beliefs have now changed.
My family is still in the church and they would like me to be different so I could fit with the church. My ward is happy with me out I think, but if I were to come back I would need to be different. In listening to this podcast I was hoping there would be a label/place for people like me (different) in the church. It sounds like there is no such place and no acceptable labels. I don’t see the diversity.
To me, Mormon means one narrow path and one narrow belief system. My name is still on the records of the church. I still attend Sacrament meeting with my family. I am respectful, I am quiet, I am careful, but I am not comfortable in the church and I am not comfortable being called a Mormon.
So, so sorry to hear about all of this, KH. Horrific. Terribly unskilled bishop making worse the situation created by the more typical “conflict phobic” folks in your presidency. A perfect storm of suck.
I am sorry our podcast made you feel more depressed about what is happening with you. I’m not sure why a label for you would help alleviate your pain, but I support your searching for one. You know your needs.
Now that it’s been eight years of this sort of marginal existence, are you in a better emotional position to address it head on with your new bishop and members of the presidency and wider circles who you feel are “glad” you’re out and marginalized to the point that you are. I have to believe there are ways to achieve some healing. If you’re interested in changing things, know that I’m happy to brainstorm some with you, and I know there are some counselors and conflict specialists in this wider Mormon community who we can rally for advice. Up to you. Please FB friend me if you’d like to continue this discussion.
It is true that labels are used as “distancing moves”, but sometimes they are useful to create distance from ideas rather than people. When I add a qualifier to “Mormon” to describe myself, I am distancing from the stereotype of Mormons, not the individuals in my friends and family who are active and believing.
The difficult thing about just using “Mormon” without modifiers is not only that we don’t have strong voices creating that big tent definition in public (the group that went to the White House is a start), but you also have the LDS Church leaders working actively against the big tent concept. If you get them one on one, in “pastoral mode”, you will get support for a big tent. But when they speak at General Conference they are in “shepherd mode” and they try to scare members from straying too far from the flock by equating variance with weakness or even pride/evil. This is incredibly counter-productive to a big tent definition of “Mormon”.
Glad for this GREAT discussion! Thanks, all! I want to weigh in on practically every comment. Maybe I will have time later today. Let’s keep it going! Everything everyone is saying has great merit. Our/my goal for the podcast was to take that moment to freeze time a bit in the middle of all this amazing energy at play in taking the defining tasks from simple deference to Church-driven boundary drawing and into our own hands. In this “time out of time” pause, I know many will continue to find a need for labels but am glad for the extra attention being paid to the ways they can subtly influence ourselves and our discussions. It can only help as we catch ourselves too easily slipping into automatic modes.
My interest was piqued by the discussion towards the end of the podcast about being “fully present” and authentic. In particular, Joanna’s comment about “living in two worlds” was, for me, thought provoking. So often in past podcasts I have heard her and others talk about the personal importance of finding a doctorinal or scriptural basis in current or past Mormon discourse that underpins or helps gap the dissonance between their personal beliefs and experiences and what they perceive as the broader, more mainstream beliefs of their brothers and sisters. I would refer to the discussion around Heavenly Mother as an example of this. I’m always impressed when someone applies that kind of rigorous scholarship to their own spirituality. I can’t help but think it pays off, allowing for life’s vicissitudes of course, in buckets. Now to my point, can we ever be “fully present?” And I suppose I’m offering an apologetic option here because I perceive this as a place for people who are looking for room. But if I come at this question from a cultural theoretical point of view I find volumes of ideas that would support the idea that being “fully present” is never really a possibility anyway. I think the collective unconscious was even mentioned in this podcast and is one idea, among many, that investigates the notion of whether or not we can ever know ourselves entirely. No man knows my history, especially me! A personal example: I am a visual artist and was recently working on a project where I thought one of the decisions I was making was a matter of intuition. I came up with a visual solution that seemed to make total sense within the context of the work but couldn’t, at the time, articulate why. I felt it important to insert an electrical receptacle into the chin of the relief painting/sculpture portrait I was working on. A day or two later I plugged in my scroll saw and realized the receptacle had earlier come to mind because of my preoccupation with unplugging the scroll saw so that my children wouldn’t harm themselves with it later. Mystery solved. I come up against these kinds of discoveries quite often because within my work I investigate concepts that orbit notions of fate or chance, destiny or simple good fortune. I engage psychoanalysis and metaphysics. What I have learned is that I’m always chasing. Most of my world remains subterranean. I unearth it slowly only to find it goes deeper than I had previously thought. More digging. So my idea of being “fully present” doesn’t depend on whether or not I am regularly making public all of my personal beliefs, but rather engaging, continually, on those levels where I feel my beliefs and understanding are insecure. And I discover that so much of what I think I know is continually in flux. This kind of religious participation is how I think of being “fully present.” So if there is a world or worlds that I don’t bring with me through the meetinghouse doors I don’t feel like I’m misrepresenting myself. After all, I can’t entirely account for myself in the first place.
Wow, great addition to the discussion. Rich, deep, worthy of reflection. I find myself wandering similar philosophical roads, @f50c190ef3d5f20af63cadf6512f8c64:disqus . For example we could argue that individual alone and individual + each different person or group is a separate identity because negotiating the sharing of ourselves, and the way we influence each other, is a different dynamic in each case.
Yes, there is something to be said for seeking congruence. But there is also acceptance of the reality that we are always different people with different people in different situations. I really appreciated your thoughts.
I think it comes down to whether we ourselves feel “false” with others, and that is a personal call only we can make.
Blair, you were a good addition to the conversation. I appreciated your comments and hope that you will be back. However, I would like to call you out on a badly chosen “label” you used on a past book review. Published on the Maxwell Institute Website, your book review was titled “Stillborn: A Parody of Latter-day Saint Faith”. This is not a criticism of the arguments you used in your book review. Yet, using the analogy of a “stillborn birth” to describe someone’s religious experience was more than distasteful. I came across your book review about 2 months ago. Your analogy made me feel physically ill and your name was scorched into my brain.
On this Mormon Matter’s discussion, your stated desire was for a move away from the label: “True Believing Mormon”. In that light, do you still standby your self-created label: “Stillborn Mormon”?
Thanks for the question! 🙂
I haven’t tried to make “Stillborn Mormon” into a label, or to use it as one, nor would I want to. I’m sorry that the phrase gave you such a disquieting reaction. I actually requested a different title for the piece, but the editors stuck with that one.
The analogy is actually from McCraney’s basic narrative, which is that as a Mormon he was not able to be spiritually reborn. I can’t remember if he or I coined it, I’ll have to track down the book again. Anyway, when McCraney had an authentic born-again experience he was led away from Mormonism. Here’s the line from my review which the editors got the title from (but not the “parody” bit of the title):
Because Latter-day Saints believe that the motivation behind behavior matters, this flawed understanding can result in stress, depression, and resignation for some or pride and hypocrisy for others. For McCraney, such an approach resulted in all of the above, ultimately leaving him spiritually stillborn. Certainly some church members needlessly suffer from an incorrect or limited understanding of gospel doctrine.
I go on to talk about some of the difficulties members of the Church face when they are trying too hard to “be good,” for lack of a better phrase, and lack of time. My approach was intended to be sympathetic. I hope you’ll read the entire review, I think its overall tenor can help erase that negative vibe you got. To the degree that “spiritually stillborn” distracts from the overall points raised in the review I’m sorry to have included it.
Thank you for your response. You completely answered by question. I hope that you will be back on Mormon Matters!
This is a reply to @96cde25443e038b70c4f190400f706bd:disqus because our comments were getting too narrow.
On the vital topic of distinguishing inspiration from our own thinking (however much that can be done), the alternative is to reduce it to the conclusion it is all us, no outside influence, and that sometimes our guesses match up to what happens/works and often it does not.
I just don’t buy that though. I really trust those experiences of mine and others where we seem to be plugged into and part of something greater, wiser, where we feel guided. I know we are meaning-projecting creatures but it seems there is more to it than that.
The church used to define us…now we are starting to define the church. Thank goodness.
I would love to see a youtube campaign of “I’m a Mormon,” videos done by unorthodox Mormons where people could go through their views and still claim the title of Mormon. Kind of something like – “I’m so-and-so, I believe in God and Jesus…I don’t believe in Polygamy…PERIOD. I think that people attracted to the same gender should have the right to marry…My name is so-and-so and I’m a Mormon.” Maybe people are too sick of the videos for it to make a difference. But everyone who wants to be a Mormon should have a seat at the table.
Well, there is the “I am a Mormon” campaign and the “I am an Ex-Mormon”
campaign, so why not “I am an Open/Uncorrelated/Inclusive Mormon” campaign?
Well, there is the “I am a Mormon” campaign and the “I am an Ex-Mormon” campaign, so why not “I am an Open/Uncorrelated/Inclusive Mormon” campaign? 🙂
G&$ I love this idea.
“But everyone who wants to be a Mormon should have a seat at the table.”
AMEN. One fine line is that the type of Mormonism I advocate for example is not so much about what *I* am or believe, but the space I give to *others* to believe or be what they will.
I love the approach of giving space to others (I sometimes need to work on it), but it is nice if that space is returned–which I’m sure is something you’d agree on. In the last blog entry at Pure Mormonism I really liked this statement: “If you’re a believing Mormon like myself, you’ll find that at the church of Unity no one will try to dissuade you from your beliefs or try to convert you to theirs. Your beliefs are considered a part of who you are. And ‘who you are’ is what matters at Unity, not your doctrinal baggage. I can arrive at Unity with an appreciation for the divinity of the Book of Mormon and an affinity for the early teachings of Joseph Smith, and easily find common ground among those who do not share those particular beliefs, because no one cares. A person’s religion is his personal business. It just doesn’t matter to anyone else. Life is just too short to be concerned with who’s right and who’s wrong.” http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2011/05/reinventing-your-sundays-part-2_28.html?showComment=1306610911263 I think there is so much wisdom in this.
I agree it would be difficult to mobilize the campaign that I mentioned (or something similar). It would have the intention of promoting the message that we are equally Mormon even though our views are sometimes distinct. It would hopefully be unifying and create space within the church.
I like, “I’m a Mormon 2”
The Church wants to show how normal Mormons are. The Ex-Mormon campaign displays happy, well-adjusted people who are not miserable and lost. I’m a Mormon 2 could make people aware that there are participating Mormons that share beliefs with both Mormons and Ex-Mormons.
I nominate Joanna Brooks for the first video. I’m sure she’s not too busy.
Clever….. “I’m a Mormon 2” has the “also” sense but also ever so gently suggests 2.0 with all its associations of progressive, open source, community improvement, etc.
If “I’m a Mormon 2” is a middle ground between Mormon and Ex-Mormon, with a sense of progression from Mormonism 1.0 to Mormonism 2.0, I don’t think I would adopt the title. It has the same problem, just more explicitly so, with the TBM title. The 2.0 title not only defines self, it defines other, which I’m not comfortable with.
Mormonexpression blogpot **MUST READ**
How about self-describing? I am a Mormon Feminist, I am a Liberal Mormon, I am, whatever I care to call myself. If someone asked me to describe Mitt Romney, I would have to say, “I have no idea,” but if pushed, I’d just say “He probably wouldn’t call himself a Liberal Mormon.” If someone wanted me to describe “mainstream Mormonism” or “Mormons, you know, not like you” I’d say that they were relying too heavily upon stereotype as a way of understanding people.
I just want to say thank you to all involved. I always enjoy this podcast, but somehow this episode just seemed to knock it out of the part on all levels for me! Many amazingly insightful comments. THANK YOU.
Huntsman may describe himself privately as a “liberal Mormon.” But a Republican presidential hopeful probably has no interest in calling himself a “liberal.”
I meant to post this as my personal Twitter feed, @derrific:twitter , but oh well. 🙂
Amazing Episode! I was so excited to see Blair participating on this episode. I have always wanted to hear from more people with his type of perspective on these types of respectful forums. Great job!
So I googled TBM and it came up with ‘Tunnel Boring Machine’ and ‘Total Body Modification’. Make of what you will.
Sorry I am late to the party. This was the first Mormon Matters podcast that genuinely left me frustrated and put off. I can appreciate the point about the dangers of short-hand generalization that are used with an air of superiority, as well as the difficulties of slighting a former version of one’s self. That said . . .To associate “TBM” with RFM, is to subtlely brand it the tool of anti-Mormon and ex-Mormons, and undermine the credibility of those trying to create space between themselves and orthodox believers. I wish others had pushed back on the assertion that TBM implies—even unintentionally or historically—gullibility and inferiority. Anecdotally, I find and use the term when communicating with other unorthodox Mormons—it’s a convenient way of saying “more orthodox and traditional than those who frequent this space.” And objectively and empirically speaking, I think its fair to say, in general terms, that orthodox Mormons tend to be less aware of history that does not conform to the Official Narrative. I am sorry if that sounds condescending, but that is the state of affairs folks. Johanna raised, but really got no response, to the important point about the deep down need many of us have to differentiate from the all encompassing “MORMON” if we are to come back or cling to any sort of a Mormon identity. Blair’s position of endorsing only the general term “Mormon,” is a silencing one, and ultimately will encourage more to identify with “Exmormon” or just “Not Mormon.” To deny the ability of Mormons to hyphenate and differentiate, is to deny that this “moment” (as the emergence of 2.0 discussion was described in the podcast) is happening. To say “can’t we all just be Mormons” is to facilitate and perpetuate the putting our collective head in the sand when it comes to recognizing just how many fail and are failed by Institutional Mormonism. To put it terms of scripture, in order to be in Zion’s tent, I have to be able to label myself in a way that says while I am of one heart with the Saints, we are not of one mind. Blair, you can’t just say shut up, “all is well in Zion.”
Welcome to the conversation! Thanks for sharing your perspectives and frustrations. I’ll let Blair speak for himself if he decides to join in here and in a couple of other spots where people are hoping to engage him, but I’m also someone who was pushing the “Mormon” term without the hyphens and qualifiers. I also hoped in doing so, that it came across as something I saw as an “ideal” and something that was more situation specific than a blanket call for the end of labeling.
For me, the key place where I feel more strongly about abandoning labels is when I’m meeting with someone in person. A couple of “for instances”: I feel plenty of distance in terms of background, gospel study, angles preferred for discussions, temperament, etc. between myself and most of my fellow Latter-day Saints who I meet with each Sunday. That said, I really enjoy meeting with them, getting to know them at ward functions, as neighbors, as fellow Utah Jazz fans or sports junkies, and I love the idea that we’re attempting to form (still a long way off) a little Zion here in our part of Tooele, Utah. Given these goals, in person, with people I know, I’d never want to add an extra label into conversation or even think one in my own mind. Doing so would be antithetical to the Zion goal, to my growing in love for them, in understanding them and their struggles, in my willingness to mourn with and support them, etc.
A second example: When I am meeting with a non-Mormon and they come to know me a bit, I love not giving them an easy label for them to be able categorize me with. As I mentioned in passing in the podcast, I don’t want to meet them a “Well, yes, I’m Mormon, but…” If I do, I only reinforce stereotypes of Mormons as all alike, conservatives, conformists, etc. How else can we change these perceptions if we don’t challenge them through their encountering our lived lives as “Mormons”?
As Joanna argued well, there are times when we DO need to label (such as her finding it necessary to disarm possible prejudice from GLBT students and supporters in her classes), but I still want to argue that we not forget the other as an “ideal” to strive for. The dream someday for me is for us to say “I’m a Mormon” and not worry about predictable stereotypes being formed immediately in the mind of someone we are meeting for the first time. Let them ask a few questions. It will be good for them to have to do a little work to get to know me, good for our emerging friendship, and good for me as I draw on thoughts of my rich faith heritage in all of its wildness and possibilities….
I love that Dan! I go back on forth on this, as I automatically project how I would have responded years ago as a “TBM” (sorry Blair) when a person said to me they were “LDS,” but then went on to say, “but I don’t agree with the standard position on gay rights,” or something similar. I would have made the judgment “well, you’re really not a good Mormon, then…” But with this (your) approach, it presupposes that it’s okay to have many beliefs — some not “mainstream — and still be “Mormon.”
It’s going to take some “changin in my thinkin,” but I like the result…
Dan, I love this as well.
This is my approach too… When I teach my class at UTS on American religious history, I introduce myself as a “believing Mormon.” During our session on Mormonism, there are usually lots of questions for me about how I juggle being gay and in a committed relationship with being a Mormon. Questions related to LDS history, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, polygamy, etc. also get asked. Some of the questions I get are tougher and/or more pointed than others, but I generally do the best I can to answer all of them sincerely. Through all of this, I don’t attempt to label myself or other believers, though I do try to be honest about some of the things different folks wrestle with; and then I let my students do the math.
I once heard a story conveyed to me about how one of my students was describing the course to someone else, and he said something to the effect of, “The instructor is a Mormon, but he’s really cool!” I do kind of love that…! I love that leaving off the qualifying labels forces people to ask questions and dig more deeply into what it means to be a Mormon…
John, you’re the coolest Mormon I know. In fact, the Church doesn’t deserve you.
I once had a bi-sexual Mormon girlfriend. She was not out to anyone who was Mormon, except to me. To every other Mormon, she was as orthodox and orthopraxic as you could imagine. She was celibate, held a prominent position in our stake/district/ward/branch, and was a temple worker.
To my friends (rarely LDS, often LGBTI), I was always the Mormon that destroyed people’s stereotypes of Mormonism. A very close friend and colleague was from Mesa. We worked together in a progressive, public-interest, human rights law firm, and were working on a project that challenged Arizona’s anti-immigrant ‘law,’ which, as we both knew, was introduced by a Mormon from Mesa.
My existence, my colleague often told me, made her reevaluate her assumptions about what a Mormon could be. (I was an Elder’s Quorum President, early-morning seminary teacher, returned missionary, descendent of a prophet, who grew up in suburban Utah, etc.) When my colleague later learned about my ex-girlfriend, she told me that her existence blew her mind all over again, and she was once again (self-) tasked with relearning what Mormonism was.
I’m not of the habit of calling myself a liberal-Mormon, just a Mormon. I never once called my ex-girlfriend a bisexual-Mormon. And I can’t ever recall stating “I’m a Mormon, but I opposed Prop 8,” or “I’m a Mormon, but I am pro-immigrant.” Honestly, very few of those statements needed to be made independent of the others (because anyone who knew me for even a short time knew all three, or could at least guess the least obvious of the three – my position on Prop 8), and never together.
So, Dan, I totally understand where you are coming from. But our practice seems to reflect our commitment to the Church. I love the fact that my existence and my voice are constantly adding to my acquaintances’ understanding of Mormonism, but that’s because I’m committed to Mormonism. If I were less so, I’d probably say “I’m a Mormon who is pro-immigrant,” or “I’m a Mormon, but I’m pro-immigrant,” or “I’m a liberal-Mormon,” or “I’m a Mormon, 2.0” (or however that is going to work out verbally), or “I’m a reformed Mormon,” or “I’m an ex-Mormon.” That’s how I roughly see the continuum from most interested in allowing one’s self to help define Mormonism or the Mormon stereotype, to most interested in defining one’s self apart from Mormonism or the Mormon stereotype. Because those labels are equally valid, when self-applied, I support all of them.
Thanks for your great comment, John! Interesting final paragraph where you wonder if it is a matter of one’s commitment to the church that makes people more or less comfortable with identifying as “Mormon” without the qualifiers. I think you are on to something here, as I recognize that within my own life: as I grew more able to see all of Mormonism’s various pieces and understand the temperaments behind them and the purposes they serve for those who hold their Mormonism in this or that way, I made greater peace with these people, the fact that these attitudes and flavors of Mormonism are there, and quite naturally over the course of a few months I just quit feeling this strong urge to add my “buts.” So I agree that your insight is solid at least with my experience, but I also am hesitant to want to say out loud what you say here, and that is because I worry it can be another way of making someone feel bad about themselves (or too good about themselves) regarding their experiencing of Mormonism: “Oh, you add labels because your commitment level isn’t as high as mine.” If I can avoid it, I don’t want that to creep into my thinking or interactions with others on any level. Does that make any sense? Perhaps true but not helpful? Yikes! Am I sounding too much like Elder Packer and his “Mantle” talk on that one?!
First, I don’t think it demonstrates varying levels of commitment to the Church, per se, but rather demonstrates varing levels of commitment to influencing the Church. “I’m a Mormon (period),” with the implication that the person’s stereotype must be challenged does not necesarily show a deep commitment to the expansion of the church, or even to “being Mormon.” Rather, it shows a commitment to being part of the group that defines for others what Mormonism is. On the other hand, “I’m a Mormon, but…” doesn’t show any less (or greater) resolve towards the expansion of the Church, or of “being Mormon,” but rather simply shows less commitment to influencing the social understanding of Mormonism. Because it leaves the stereotype largely in place, and defines self as an exception, it is less engaged in defining Mormonism. That’s all.
Second, and more importantly, I recognize all of these labels as valid ways of “being Mormon,” but that’s not the point. The effect of your point seems to be limited to recognizing how others may interpret these labels and advising a friend who uses one of these labels how s/he may be viewed by others. The choice of label, and even the choice of whether or to what extent to let the choice of label be influenced by its likely perception, is up to the person choosing what name to give her/his faith.
All of that is probably more simply and directly said this way: I’m not going to tell others what to call themselves. They have their reasons, and I’ll honor them.
I also just want to say how cool your podcast and forum is. This is the first time one of the regulars has replied to one of my posts, so I just had to say something, but don’t you worry, I’m not going to gush and gush every time it happens.
‘Blair, you can’t just say shut up, “all is well in Zion.”‘
I certainly didn’t intend to tell anyone to shut up, or to say “All is well in Zion.” I’m not trying to subtly brand the TBM label, I’m honestly explaining the meanings it has, including its frequent usage at RfM and elsewhere. I’m not advocating that people just put their heads in the sand. My approach is somewhat pragmatic, in that I am trying to express why labels can have bad side-effects. I don’t confine the problem to the TBM label itself. You say you use TBM when talking to other “unorthodox” people, which again sets up this dichotomy of orthodox/unorthodox whereas I personally don’t feel I fit perfectly in either of those camps, hence my qualms about labeling. I do find it interesting that you say I am trying to undermine the credibility of “those trying to create space between themselves and orthodox believers.” For me, it’s not about calling the credibility into question, it’s about noticing the effort to divide, inherent in the idea of creating space between, potentially overlooking opportunities to understand each other.
I wanted to add a comment. I stand by my original blog post (http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2011/05/manifesto-against-tbm) which indicates my dislike for the label “TBM.” As that post explains, and as I said in the podcast, I base that dislike on a few factors. First, what I see as the origin and frequent intended meaning of the phrase. And second, the inherent risk we take in labeling other people at all.
I see “TBM” most frequently used on RfM, and in conversations which imply the meaning I described, which is a condescending one. I oppose the label regardless of whatever condescending labels any Mormons might also use, including “anti-Mormon” or “apostate.” In using RfM as a place to see what TBM means I am not saying RfM is is the summum bonum of the quality or perspective of all former Mormons or even a majority of them. By calling attention to the negative origin and use of TBM I hope to encourage more thoughtful and loving actions on the part of former Mormons, however they wish to label themselves. Anyone with questions can contact me by email anytime.
The problems associated with labeling others are simple to understand, yet they run deep. The question of whether TBM is used with condescension is self-evident to me. For people who call themselves TBM, or Italian-American, etc., it is respectful of their wishes and their identity for others to call them by their chosen identifier. For people who don’t, it is disrespectful to call them by that title, regardless of your intention. You may not hold malice for that person, but they have their reasons for rejecting the title, and you disagree with their reasons and–because naming goes to identity–disregard their identity when you entitle them in a way they don’t accept.
From a self-serving perspective, when you refer to someone, or a stereotype, that you want to distance yourself from by explicitly naming him/her, or it, rather than by naming yourself, you become the other. The TBM or the stereotype of TBM becomes more and more entrenched as the norm, and you become so ‘other’ and thus irrelevent, that you cannot even be named.
I agree with you Blair. I just read your post about TBM and completely agree with you. I just did a post about anti-mormon as I dislike labeling. http://mormonphilosophy.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/anti-mormon-literature/
I think I may have a look at the term apostate and do a post about what an apostate is, and how the term is used. I think the problem with categories is that it is used to define people, I think that in labelling them it destroys part of the vitality of the diversity that each person has, I don’t even like the term mormon, or Christian, I find that in doing so it restricts the notion of who I am. I am more then a Mormon, or a Christian, and to attempt to reduce anyone into a label such as ‘Mormon’ or ‘TBM’ is to destroy part of who they are in our perception of them.
Thank you Blair and Dan—I appreciate the substantive responses.
The point that the term “TBM” is often used with condescention is well taken. And yes of course, like all words, it has a limiting effect, and people often communicate imprecisely and lazily.
But I still disagree that the term TBM is empirically more assoiciated with RFM. I have not seen evidence of the relative frequency of its use at RFM and sites like NOM or any of the many FB MSP and MSP-like groups.
TBM hits high on a Google search because RFM is so old and thus linked. Google the word “Mormon” and see how high RFM hits.
From Blair’s response, it is not just the term TBM that is problematic, but also “orthodox,” “non-traditional,” etc. That you do not feel like you fit in either “orthodox” or “unorthodox” does not mean that the distinction is invalid or inappropriate. It may reinforce stereotypes as Dan notes, but we cannot just linguistically ignore the last 40 years of correlation and homogenization, at least not categorically and universally. It is, as I think Anderson said, all about audience.
Thanks for letting me participate in the discussion. Keep the podcasts coming.
Thanks for the good addition here, Ian. Please keep contributing!
I’d respond on the RfM stuff, but I don’t think I’ve ever visited that site, so if Blair used it in passing during the podcast, I am sorry I wasn’t alerted to how strongly so many folks who are ex- or post-Mormon reject it as representative at all of their attitudes. I think all of you who have mentioned this as a problematic piece of the discussion have done a good job of alerting the rest of us about the wide spectrum of groups out there serving former or distancing-from Mormons, with RfM apparently at the far end of the vitriol and ad hominem scale. Thanks for alerting me to this. I’m sure it will serve me positively in further discussions I’m part of.
This really is an important subject. My biggest concern as it pertains to the
church is the difficulty it seems to have with inclusion. Our ability to create dialogue and space for
other thought is very important to the health of the gospel – in order to get
answers you have to ask questions.
I do think that it is important to note that the church’s
stated purpose is salvation, literal salvation.
So I think there is a real challenge to creating that environment where
people can feel accepted and valued even if they have different ideas as to its
I look at the gospel and its history (which has
problems, I know) and I see something that is pliable and dynamic. It is precisely the history of the church
that tells me that rigidness will not be able to sustain the church. I often look at it like the salt water taffy
machines that require constant movement to keep the integrity of the taffy
intact. It seems to me that we’re on the
precipice of either letting the machine slow down too much, and risk ruining
this “batch” or meeting the challenges that we face and enjoying a real breadth
of experience that continues to be dynamic and meet the needs of a congregation in a fast
moving world. I think we are required
to question and to test the boundaries to learn and grow. I believe that the gospel can live up to the test
of dividing questions.
I do believe that this church is led by God, but that it is
up to its members to ask the questions.
It seems in the early days of the church members would ask Joseph Smith “what
does the Lord think of this…” and then he would pray about it, and now there
seems to be this “spoon-fed” culture.
I’ve been a literal believer, a liberal, an agnostic, and
now a literal believer again. I am also
a conservative who believes that are very good reasons as a conservative for
equal rights for the LGBT community.
I do not believe that we currently have the answers for a
lot of the questions challenging the church.
I think it is up to us to prayerfully ask for those answers.
Forgive my long winded and perhaps contrived statement. I stumbled upon this site by accident, and
have to say that while I may disagree with some I do think this is a very
healthy and productive place to meet and hope to be back soon. Thank you.
Glad you stumbled upon us, Howiescorner! Welcome! Thanks for sharing a bit about your journey here. Hope to get to know you better through further interactions.
Thanks all for this podcast. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Labels such as “TBM” and even “Mormon” are less than helpful in
understanding who we are. I would have been more impressed with John
Huntsman if when asked, “Are you a Mormon?”, would have answered “tell
me what you mean by ‘Mormon’?”. Your true identity is not a label or
anything that is a mental form. You are bigger than that! Labels are
OK if they are functionally defined precisely but only for communication
and not for self-identification. One learning I like is in the “A New
Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle. He writes:
LETTING GO OF SELF-DEFINITIONS
As tribal cultures developed into the ancient civilizations, certain
functions began to be allotted to certain people: ruler, priest or priestess,
warrior, farmer, merchant, craftsman, laborer, and so on. A class system
developed. Your function, which in most cases you were born into,
determined your identity, determined who you were in the eyes of others, as
well as in your own eyes. Your function became a role, but it wasn’t
recognized as a role: It was who you were, or thought you were. Only rare
beings at the time, such as the Buddha or Jesus, saw the ultimate irrelevance
of caste or social class, recognized it as identification with form and saw that
such identification with the conditioned and the temporal obscured the light
of the unconditioned and eternal that shines in each human being.
In our contemporary world, the social structures are less rigid, less
clearly defined than they used to be. Although most people are, of course,
still conditioned by their environment, they are no longer automatically
assigned a function and with it an identity. in fact, in the modern world, more
and more people are confused as to where they fit in, what their purpose is,
and even who they are.
I usually congratulate people when they tell me, “I don’t know who I
am anymore.” Then they look perplexed and ask, “Are you saying it is a
good thing to be confused?” I ask them to investigate. What does it mean to
be confused? “I don’t know “ is not confusion. Confusion is: “I don’t know,
but I should know” or “I don’t know, but I need to know.” is it possible to let
go of the belief that you should or need to know who you are? In other
words, can you cease looking to conceptual definitions to give you a sense of
self? Can you cease looking to thought for an identity? When you let go of
the belief that you should or need to know who you are, what happens to
confusion? Suddenly it is gone. When you fully accept that you don’t know,
you actually enter a state of peace and clarity that is closer to who you truly
are than thought could ever be. Defining yourself through thought is limiting