New Projects for Main Street Plaza and Mormon Alumni Association Books!

I have some exciting news for the readers of Main Street Plaza, Outer Blogness, and Mormon Alumni Association Books: We’re planning to become a publisher!! Our awesome first book should be appearing… at some date to be announced, hopefully not to far in the future.

In anticipation of this new project, I’m going to make a bit of a change in format here at Main Street Plaza: I will be posting my usual “Sunday in Outer Blogness” column only every other week, and the alternating weeks will feature new posts on Mormon-related topics. This is mostly because the discussion in blogspace has died down enough over the past few years that I’d be doing more of a service by starting new discussions than by rounding up the existing discussions. And now that I’ve gone such a long time without doing any serious blogging, I have a backlog of ideas to write about again!! So I will be presenting the following series:

What Makes the CoJCoL-dS Tick? Observations and Insights of a Longtime Insider/Outsider!

If you are interested in being a part of Mormon Alumni Association Books — or of contributing articles to Main Street Plaza, please email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com.

Mormon Intra-faith Dialogue Under Controlled Circumstances

Picket Fence

A week ago, a number of bloggers from across the Mormon belief map joined together answer the following question- do good online fences make good LDS neighbors? My co-panelistchanson has posted some remarks here, andRachel Whipple has posted her remarks at Times and Seasons, andyou can also readHolly’s post herefor thoughts from a non-panelist.

I have written frequently on the topic, but I wanted to address things again here. For our panel, we had wanted to have members of the orthodox, believing Mormon blog aggregator Nothing Wavering. However, both Bruce Nielson and J. Max Wilson declined our invitation, but they did provide reasons for why they declined our invitations to Sunstone (Bruce’s reasons for declining Sunstone detail this idea that the different blogs are “safe zones” for different communities, whereas J. Max Wilson’s reasons for declining talk about the need not to give Sunstone or the Bloggernacle any legitimacy.)

With J. Max’s and Bruce’s posts publicly available on their blogs, I thought that I could present their pointson their behalf — kinda like a devil’s advocate (can you taste the irony?) I don’t know how J. Max feels about this, but Bruce, at the very least, had said explicitly in his comments:

…if you wanted to express my views of boundary maintenance at Sunstone on my behalf just for kicks and giggles and then let your panel shoot it down, I really wouldnt mind. (Not being present, I can hardly be socially rejected now can I?) I might even take this email and post it on M* one of these days and see if it generates any discussion while Im in my safe zone so to speak. But this is up to you.

So I guess his post was fair game. But there was a funny thing that happened after I presented both of their positions.

Continue reading “Mormon Intra-faith Dialogue Under Controlled Circumstances”

Reclaiming Our Stories

This is the presentation I gave for the panel Who gets to say what former Mormons are like? which I organized at the 2012 Sunstone Symposium.

I could see that she didn’t know what she was talking about just by the description of this book!

Author needs to do her research first!

I have only read the description of this book and I realize that I might not really understand the content, but the Mormon church is not like what is being described.

The author does not have the least bit of correct knowledge of the Mormon religion. Her portrayal could not have been more grossly inaccurate.

If you would like to know what the Mormon church, (correctly named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*) believes in and stands for, this book is NOT the source to choose. Visit Mormon.org or talk to a Mormon you may know.

All of these are quotes from online reviews of someone’s personal memoirs. The book is not billed as anything other than one person’s life experiences — certainly not as a source-book on Mormonism.

I know, you can find anything on the Internet. But still, it’s interesting to see several people confidently post that they are more qualified than the author judge the accuracy of her recounting of her own life, simply because her experience with Mormonism was largely (but not entirely) negative.

The advice to “talk to a Mormon you may know” is perhaps the most poignant part because of the unspoken assumptions it carries: That obviously the author can’t be considered “Mormon” if she’s no longer a believing, practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that if she’s not “Mormon” by the CoJCoL-dS’s standards, then she has no business talking about Mormonism at all. Even experiences from her own life — it’s as though she has no right to claim them anymore.

If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??

That’s our “Frequently Asked Question” on the community blog Main Street Plaza. No other question comes close in frequency.

I try to be patient with this question because — no matter how many times I’ve answered it — it’s new to each new person who comes by to ask.

It’s not a malicious question. It’s that the CoJCoL-dS teaches that “apostates” are miserable and bitter, and have no further connection with anything Mormon — except to angrily try to tear the church down. And if you’re surrounded by people who believe that, it’s not unusual to have simply never questioned that claim. I’m glad to have the opportunity to expose people to a new and unfamiliar perspective.

The truth is that if you were raised Mormon or have practiced Mormonism for a significant amount of time, that experience is part of what shapes the person you are. That component of your life doesn’t suddenly become invalid or irrelevant the day you stop believing in the truth claims of the CoJCoL-dS. That’s why our book distribution co-op is called the “Mormon Alumni Association” (see here for the origin of the name).

Former Mormons typically have strong mixed feelings about Mormonism. Some negative opinions, naturally, but also lots of positive associations and memories as well. Rarely indifference.

It’s normal for former Mormons to want to join in discussions about Mormonism. It’s normal that those who feel inspired to write stories include Mormon characters and Mormon themes, as I did in my novel ExMormon. You write what you know. And if you look at our book collection, you’ll see that our portraits of Mormonism are complex and varied — not one-note diatribes. For some of our stories Mormonism isn’t even the central point at all, it’s more background scenery.

In his March 15 Washington Post column Michael Otterson argued that journalists are not really qualified to cover Mormon-related stories unless they:

Drop into our services, talk to our people**, have dinner with a local leader, spend a family home evening with a family, be present when a young soon-to-be missionary opens his or her call letter and learns where they will be spending the next couple of years. Join with us on a service project. And then, when you have scratched the surface in this way, closely observe the transformation of peoples lives outside the church as missionaries teach them and they go through the conversion process. Watch those who transition from attitudes of hopelessness to lives of purpose and meaning and learn new ways to follow Jesus Christ. Talk to a Mormon bishop –our version of the local pastor, but who is unpaid for their volunteer work –as he helps people grapple with problems of addiction or shaky marriages or unemployment.

He also gives a list of publications that are extremely laudatory towards the CoJCoL-dS as examples of good journalism.

Michael Otterson (the managing director of Public Affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is the intellectual leader behind the new mantra “If you have any questions, go to lds.org!” Any time a news story diverges one iota from the party line found on lds.org and the LDS Newsroom website, the church PR machine exclaims that the journalists didn’t do their research properly. This includes interviewing faithful Mormons like BYU Professor Randy Bott.

I wish faithful Mormons would be willing to apply the same standards to themselves, and realize that Sunday School lessons like Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy represent tearing other people down — real live people like you and me — whose lives the faithful Mormons aren’t qualified to describe.

One positive aspect of the “Mormon Moment” is that it might help people like Otterson get the message that it’s not reasonable to expect journalists to quote exclusively from your company’s official spokespeople and press releases, and not seek any other sources. But even if it doesn’t, we former Mormons can find our own voices through blogs and books, etc., and reclaim our own stories.

* Unless the reviewer mistakenly thought the memoir was about growing up in the Strangite branch, the correct name is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” not “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.

** I imagine Otterson means to exclude people like me in the category “our people.”

New features and an invitation to guest-post!

Since Main Street Plaza is growing, we’re thinking of adding some new features — maybe even a fourth column! But since this is a community blog, that’s where you come in. What do you think of the features we’ve added to the sidebars? What else would you like to see? Would you like to post your own article(s) here?

Note that posting at Main Street Plaza doesn’t have to be instead of your current blog — rather it can be a way to increase your blog’s visibility! Have a look at some of our recent stats:

Also, you don’t have to feel limited to words on a page. For example, have a look at this silly video series I made with a certain BCC permablogger brother of mine many years ago:

Your turn!

Reader Question: If you dont want anything to do with the LDS faith, then why allocate so much of your time talking about it??

We’ve just gotten yet another comment asking the above question. I feel like we’ve answered this on MSP about a million times — it’s probably our biggest “FAQ” — but I don’t think we have one go-to post where people give their various answers and explanations. Mine’s a little like Jonathan’s: it’s basically a fun hobby (though there’s a bit more to my answer than that, eg. I never said I want “nothing to do with the LDS faith”). How about the rest of you?