For many Mormons, their faith and relationship to the LDS Church has forever changed from what they were growing up. And this is how it should be. We’re all called to growth and to assuming responsibility for our own life choices, including the most compelling vision of what existence is all about, how we want to live, with whom do we want to associate, what it is that brings us (or promises us, we sense if we keep going) the greatest joy. In the faith and spirituality arena, religions all contain visions of what it means to be a fully flourishing human being (including, for some, divine potentialities), and they outline practices and create communities designed to help foster growth toward their particular vision. The rub comes when communities and leaders, out of utility (trying to meet the needs of the most people or its especially fragile members), or from fear, ideals of protective love, or simply being deeply engaged in day-to-day operations fail to encourage the kind of maturation that life (and even their community’s highest teachings) points people toward. What is someone in the community to do when the greatest focus is on the spiritual needs of children and others who seem to need continuing dependence upon the institution when they themselves are ready to venture into new views, enter into that new relationship with the institution and its founding scriptures, sacred narratives, and communal forms? How does this person live into greater richness when all the messaging seems to call for “safety” within the fold or continued reliance on others’ wisdom and authority?
This seems to be one of the main crossroads faced by listeners to and conversation partners within this and other Open Stories Foundation podcasts and online forums, as well as other places in the LDS “bloggernacle.” In these discussions, the term “Middle Way Mormonism” has arisen (though not without its limitations as a term) as a way to describe the path that some are attempting, which is to negotiate the tensions between no longer accepting all the foundational claims and narratives in their simplest formulations, feeling the need to develop one’s own authentic faith and mature relationship with the LDS church and family members who may not yet feel the same call to explore the rich thickets of ideas and stories and sensibilities that don’t fully align with institutional forms, yet still hoping to remain within and fully engage the Mormon community. It is a path in between the extremes of pure conforming and giving primary responsibility for our religious ideals and the direction we walk to others, and formally leaving Mormonism.
In this episode, Scott Holley hosts a panel discussion on the possibilities, promises, and perils involved in the attempt to live and flourish within these tensions. On the panel are Jared Anderson, Andrew Ainsworth, and Mormon Matters’ usual host Dan Wotherspoon, who, along with Scott, have each spent a great deal of time and concentrated effort in seeking the ideal balance for them. Following a framing that takes them into Middle Way tensions regarding beliefs, behaviors, and ones sense of belonging, what are the prices they see someone is called to pay when she or he walks a path outside the tradition’s well-worn center groove? What are the rewards of staying engaged with a community that one finds oneself out of sync with? What better way might be out there for someone who chooses to disengage from Mormonism? Where are the signs of hope for greater peace and comfort, and where are places of support found for those who choose a Middle Way Mormon walk?
This episode features four different temperaments, four different journeys. Every one who listens will have their unique stories to tell, as well–and we hope you all will in the comments section! We also promise that we’ll soon host similar discussions with those whose social locations differ from the four white, straight men who constitute this panel.