Yet Another John

John NilssonMormon 10 Comments

I don’t know what the prevalence of the name John on Mormon Matters says about this site or our parents’ predilection for monosyllabic British boy’s names, but here is yet another John weighing in on John Dehlin’s invitation to turn this site into the mother of all Mormon blogs: Great idea!

In fact, I began thinking that perhaps John’s ground rules for participation might not be bad to extend to active LDS Church participation as well. Imagine a liberal Mormon as Gospel Doctrine teacher, a fundamentalist in charge of the food storage committee, orthodox Mormons as nursery leaders, ex-Mormons as activity committee chairs to keep the parties interesting, and moderates in the bishopric to, well, moderate.

Seriously, though, wouldn’t adopting John’s call for Mormon Matters permabloggers to have a “deep and abiding love for Mormons and Mormonism” be a great minimum standard for active participation in local LDS congregations? And I’m talking comfortable participation, not the “handle with care” category reserved for many of our LDS friends currently considered outside the norms of American Mormon culture.

I know this might seem far-fetched, but isn’t it within our reach to achieve a church culture change like this within the next generation or two in the U.S. at least? Elder Ballard may not have had Mormon Matters in mind when he called on the faithful to contribute to public discussions of the gospel, but his statement surprised me for it’s grasp of reality, and indicates to me that the leaders of the Church are doing some hard thinking about how to adapt Church practices to the needs of the current generation.

And just so you think it’s possible to be inclusive, I’ll tell you that a polygamist comfortably participated in my ward’s elder’s quorum for several weeks before moving out of the ward boundaries!

Yet Another John (Nilsson)

Comments 10

  1. Wonderful to have you here, John 3. 🙂

    I love your vision — and I must admit I share your wishes. I wish LDS wards were filled w/ the entire spectrum. I believe that they’d be better for it. And I know it would be more interesting.

    Like I told Stephen — we’ll have to be patient as we build our audience. Commenting as a good citizen and building good reputations on other blogs and putting this URL in our signatures will help.

    Thanks for coming around…and may this be the start of something great!!!

  2. I wish LDS wards were filled w/ the entire spectrum. I believe that they’d be better for it. And I know it would be more interesting.

    John D., I’m a little confused about your vision as described in this sentence. I would think that most ex-Mormons do not support the Church or want it to succeed (most are apathetic and a small portion are vocally opposed to the Church). Don’t get me wrong — I think that providing this full spectrum on a blog is a great idea (I pushed for something similar in the formative process of Mormon Mentality, hoping that it would include the full range of those who consider themselves Mormons based on the Book of Mormon as the common tie, including LDS, FLDS, CoC/RLDS, Strangites, etc. but the motion didn’t carry the day).

    But is it realistic to think that LDS congregations would or should include Fundamentalists who reject the Church leadership because of the rejection of Polygamy? My sense is that they do not support the Church nor want it to succeed. The same goes for most ex-Mormons, I would think.

    I think the touchstone of “deep and abiding love for Mormons and Mormonism” is the correct gauge for having an uplifting congregation rather than a full spectrum per se. I think your point is that our congregations should be more willing to hear a broader diversity of opinions about Gospel topics rather than just those currently preferred by Church leaders and greater tolerance for open criticism of Church culture.

  3. Post

    John F. ,

    Your concerns about Fundamentalists and ex-Mormons being included in LDS wards is valid. They will never be mainstream, nor would want to be. I offered one example of an individual married to two women who called himself a polygamist participating in my elder’s quorum for a brief period, to the point of offering lesson commentary.

    As far as ex-Mormons go, I could cite several examples of ex-Mormons who continue to participate in Mormon culture, even on the ward level. Lavina Fielding Anderson is one prominent example here, but there are others I could name as well. There are many ex-Mormons who are not “ex” by choice. There are also fundamentalists who are confused about the line between the Church and their own family’s aberrant marital practices. Fundamentalist leaders do not represent the rank-and-file, many of whom have been isolated from the wider community and who respond well when fellowship is extended. They already have testimonies of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, and there is a lot more common ground with current Mormon orthodoxy than is currently supposed. The irony is that the liberals are the ones engaging fundamentalists in dialogue. The fundamentalists may be too close for comfort to certain of the orthodox, especially those who fully expect to practice polygamy in the hereafter.

  4. I’m confused. Am I John 4 or John 2 (is John F. John 2?) Maybe we should register 😉

    I equate the words Mormon and Mormonism with the entire movement, along with the phrases “the Restoration” and Latter Day Saint (big D no hyphen). So my reading of “loving Mormons and Mormonism” is inclusive, as opposed to the exclusive usage of supporting “the Church” or “Church leaders.” Other than some of the fundamentalists, members of each Mormon church use the phrase “the Church” to refer only to their own denomination. (I’ve noticed that Protestants, by contrast, use “the Church” to refer to the entire Christian community, or at least those they recognize as Christian.)

  5. JohnF,

    It’s really great to have you here, and (as always) you make good points, and cause me to think.

    I guess I only have a few anecdotes to offer…

    — I met a woman last week (her occupation is ASL translation for the deaf) who was disfellowshipped years ago for being gay, but she remains a true believer in the LDS Church. She went inactive after her disfellowshipment (court of love was not very loving to her), and moved out of Utah. In the new state she made a deaf friend who happened to be LDS, and offered to come with her to church to translate. The bishop started asking questions, and when he found out that my friend was still LDS, and living with her gay partner, he proactively excommunicated her, and forbade her from doing any more ASL translations in the ward.

    Now I know that this is an extreme example (and solely on the word of my friend) — but I do wish that the church was a place where believing in even some of the doctrine, and having a desire to fellowship — were enough for feeling like a full participant (especially since most folks I know recently have no idea what most of the doctrine is, and even so…believe only parts of the full menu).

    It’s a naive wish…but I have it. I wish that the bishop had just left my friend alone. She is so lonely now not having a church — and has tried other churches, but still believes in (most of) Mormonism, and doesn’t feel quite right about going elsewhere. Buckley Jeppson’s case was similar to this — but with a happier ending (at least for now). His bishop was called on a mission before he could excommunicate Buckley for legally marrying his partner in Canada.

    2) I have another friend (Anne Wilde) who was a secret polygamist, and raised all 3 of her children in a traditional LDS ward in a Salt Lake City ward (people just thought that she was a divorced, single mother). Anne absolutely believes that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and loves fellowshipping with the saints. She obviously doesn’t believe everything taught by Gordon B. Hinckley, but I imagine that she believes the vast majority of what he teaches — and would be respectful about the rest. She also is an amazingly kind, loving and compassionate woman. I feel like any LDS ward would benefit from Anne’s membership, and vice versa.

    I guess I wish that we could figure out a way to have more of a culture of tolerance/love/inclusion for religious or cultural differences within the LDS Church — while still maintaining our high standards.

    That’s what I’m trying to say…though probably too carelessly. Thanks for asking!!!

  6. JohnF,

    Why are there ex-mormons?

    Is it possible that if varying degrees of faith and orthodoxy were accepted that fewer people would choose to disassociate themselves from the church?

    In my opinion, a lot of the rfm crowd are stuck in the “it’s 100% true or it’s a great fraud” mindset. Once they decide it’s not 100% true (even if it’s 50% or 95% true), they think it must be a lie – once they decide the Book of Abraham wasn’t translated from the papyri, for example, they decide there is no truth in the church at all.

    If these people had been exposed to a wide range of viewpoints in church and felt welcome in the church as they are, they may desire to participate in whatever way they can. And I think that’s valuable.

  7. I agree that it is fruitful for a wide spectrum of beliefs to be present at Church. My point was wondering whether Fundamentalists and ex-Mormons would want to be in the congregation. I don’t think they would. Therefore, I thought the more valid measure (rather than an emphasis on a wide spectrum as a goal in itself even though it is desirable) to speak of all members of the congregation having a deep and abiding love for Mormons and Mormonism. I’m sure there are some Fundamentalists and ex-Mormons who have this but I don’t think it’s enough to give all of our congregations the full spectrum.

  8. John F.,

    I wonder how much that would change if folks felt welcome. I know many ex-Mos who long to return to church. They just want to feel like they are not “lesser” in the congregation for who they are, and what they feel/believe.

  9. I guess my point is that, if people felt like the church wanted a wide spectrum of participation, more ex-mormons and fundamentalist mormons would feel the desire to participate. I really think the all or nothing stance leads to some of the anger you get from the ex-mormons.

    Think of it this way: suppose you woke up tomorrow and decided that The Book of Mormon isn’t historical. If you know a lot of people who feel this way and who actively participate in the mormon church, then you’re likely to adjust to your change in beliefs within the church and community. If, on the other hand, you’ve been taught that this belief is heretical and you know that your family and friends will react negatively and that some will even cut relations with you over this belief, you may become angry and walk away from the whole community.

    I’m trying to communicate that (in my opinion) the ex-mormon anger is not exogenous to the goal of wide participation. Of course the angry people will not want to participate. Those that hate the church will probably not want to attend. BUT if we allow people to participate at their own level and pace without condemnation, then there will be a lot fewer angry people.

  10. This conversation about tolerating various viewpoints within Mormonism reminds me of something Thomas Merton said (paraphrasing): “Lord, bless me with the humility to realize that just because I think I am right doesn’t mean I am right.” Looking down on others or excluding them from our internal “naughty” and “nice” lists based on our personal disagreement with their good-faith viewpoints seems so contrary to everything Jesus taught.

    Here’s to a healthy dose of humility for us all.

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