Bringing back Liberal Mormonism


Hello, MSP Community. I am Chris H. I am a permablogger at Faith-Promoting Rumor. I teach political science at Casper College. Thanks to Chino Blanco and chanson for the chance to share a few posts over here.

Growing up in Maryland, I always found Judiasm to be very interesting. Not so much the details of Jewish theology, but the nuances of Jewish culture.

Within Judiasm, as I understand it, there are Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, and Reform Jews. What I have longed wondered has been whether there could be similar categories within Mormonism. I know that there are categories like New Order Mormons, but this seems a bit narrow to me.

In particular, I am curious as to whether the category of liberal Mormon could be better developed and more excepted within Mormonism, in the way the Reform Judaism has. This does not mean that Orthodox and the Conservatives do not disagree with Reform Jews of many things, but the Reform Jew is still a Jew.

Within Mormonism, to be a religious liberal put one in the position of having your Mormonism challenged. But, what is liberal Mormonism? For now, I will argue that it centers on two things. While a Mormon liberal loves the scriptures, she does not take them to be literal. It is this interpretive approach to scripture (and this could include church history) that makes it fun. Additionally, liberal Mormons, following the example and thought of Lowell Bennion, place doing good and loving your fellow human beings above the importance of believing correctly.

Now, the likes of Harold B. Lee and Bryce Hammond would say that there is no room for religious liberals within Mormonism. They are not a minority voice on this. However, I think that this requires the liberal Mormon to stand up and claim a place within their beloved religious tradition. I am ready for that fight.

I have more to say on this, but I am curious about your initial thoughts and questions.

102 thoughts on “Bringing back Liberal Mormonism

  1. apparently not. There are many people who seem not to agree. If it were so obvious, perhaps you wouldn’t have to try so hard arguing for this.

    Now, if you were arguing that out of a plurality of definitions, of which one would be more easily recognizable in many contexts, that would be one thing. But then you’d have to concede that there are a plurality of legitimate definitions and what makes one more appropriate than another is in fact, context.

  2. I looked through the Community of Christ’s website and didn’t find a single reference to them being “Mormons”.

    I issued a challenge quite a number of posts ago and you have FAILED to provide a single link that shows an individual referring to him/her- self as a Mormon that is not affiliated with the CoJCoL-dS, and you think I’m the one that has to “try so hard arguing for this”?

  3. You conveniently ignored how I pointed out that NOM and stayLDS are comprised of many excommunicated and resigned people as well. And you completely ignored John Gustav-Wrathall.

    In fact, you said that “was missing the point.” Probably because your case isn’t as unequivocal as you thought it was.

  4. Actually, I said it was “missing the point” because my original point was that even if I call myself Andrew S. that doesn’t mean I am.

    My point in asking you to provide links, which you obviously cannot provide, is that I think your claim that all these people want to call themselves Mormons is bogus, and all of the evidence that you have cited is purely anecdotal. You can’t show me one single person who acutally refers to himself as a Mormon that isn’t one, can you?

  5. Since this is my post…I declare Andrew S. winner. I wonder if I can still log in here…

    Even within the SL LDS Church there is not a consensus on the term.

  6. Perhaps you missed my comment @49, JJL9, but the FLDS call themselves Mormon. Sure, they are a “little club,” but I don’t think that disqualifies them from self-identifying as Mormon even though they’re not part of the CoJCoL-dS.

    In common parlance, yes, “Mormon” refers to the CoJCoL-dS’s membership. But that’s only because the CoJCoL-dS is the biggest “club” on the block.

  7. Alan, I didn’t miss your comment, but having you guys tell me that certain people or certain groups of people refer to themselves as Mormons is purely anecdotal.

    I’m still waiting for a primary source in which an individual actually does this.

  8. LOL

    You can’t provide a link and never will in which an individual in a regular conversation or post says something like, “as a Mormon….”, or “I happen to be Mormon….” or anything like that.

    They know they are not Mormons. They are going to great lengths to respond to the LDS Church’s obvious need to distance itself from them, but they aren’t fooling anyone. If they were walking down the street and you said, “are you Mormon?” they would say no. They might say, “Well, I’m a ‘fundamentalist Mormon'”, and they might go on to explain what they mean by that, but they know what the term Mormon means as well as you and I do.

    Still waiting for a link in which an individual simply refers to him/her- self as Mormon without having to explain that they aren’t really Mormon, but that they want to be called Mormon.

    It simply doesn’t exist.

  9. Uh, yeah, because fundamentalist Mormons really refer to themselves as “fundamentalist Mormons” or “fundamentalist Latter-day Saints” instead of just “Mormon” or “LDS.” That makes a whole lot of sense. Apparently, you think the CoJCoL-dS is so important that everyone describes themselves as how they’re related to it.

    I think you need to do some more research. Sure, a GA might call a “fundamentalist Mormon” a “contradiction,” but then it was a GA who came up with the term in the 1930s, a decade after the CoJCoL-dS stopped polygamy within its own ranks.

  10. Again, you have to tell me that they refer to themselves as this or that, but you can’t find a single instance of an individual actually referring to themselves as a Mormon. You can’t because they don’t.

  11. Some fundamentalist groups encourage their young men to serve LDS missions. Are you seriously suggesting that Paul Kingston has never referred to himself as a Mormon?

  12. Really? Fundamentalist groups encourage their young ment to serve LDS missions?

    How does that work? They call the missionaries and pretend to go along with them so they can be baptized into the LDS church and then go on a mission?

    Paul Kingston never referred to himself as a Mormon. Even if he did it would be like me referring to myself as Chino Blanco.

    None of you can find a single example of an individual that is not Mormon actually referring to themselves as Mormon. You go to great lengths to tell me that they do it, but they don’t.

    Even if they did, I could call myself a Catholic all day long every day, but that wouldn’t mean I am one.

  13. Your comment @63 shows your ignorance on the matter. If the FLDS person were walking down the street and I said, are you Mormon? they would say yes.

    The truth of the matter is, the biggest church on the block is trying to bully both terms (“Mormon” and “fundamentalist Mormon”) away from the smaller churches, when in fact, all the churches (FLDS groups, RLDS groups) come from a shared Mormon history. Your reasoning they’re stealing legitimacy or the identity from the “real” Church by calling themselves “Mormon” is obnoxious.

    Less than 10 years ago, CoJCoL-dS Mormons didn’t even want to be called Mormons — but rather “Latter-day Saints.” Now, it seems CoJCoL-dS Mormons are intent on monopolizing “Mormon.” This probably has to do with two factors. The first has to do with the the fact that the Internet has made “Mormon” popular (and now you have this “I’m a Mormon” campaign). The second has to do with how the FLDS in the media was referred to as “fundamentalist Mormon,” which made the Church’s job of growing itself and controlling its image harder, so that now the Church wants control of all the terms… and wants the FLDS to be called “a polygamous sect,” stripping it of its Mormon heritage.

    All I hear you saying is, “they can call themselves Mormon, but they’re not.” Wow, that’s really convincing and thoughtful.

  14. LOL

    You still can’t show me ONE SINGLE INDIVIDUAL referring to themselves as a Mormon that is not one.

    This conversation is ridiculous.

  15. And you are a shithead…what is your point? What does this have do to with my post?

  16. I didn’t bring up the subject of whether or not the term Mormon refers esclusively to the CoJCoL-dS. That debate was already happening. I don’t know what it has to do with the post, but again, I didn’t bring it up. I just addressed the debate and answered the question.

    But I guess calling me names somehow proves that I’m wrong in my arguments?

  17. It’s breaking out all over. MDL must’ve sent a newsletter to its members telling them it was time to let America know that Uncle Warren is NOT Mormon.

  18. As to the questions posed, “Within Mormonism, to be a religious liberal put one in the position of having your Mormonism challenged.”

    I think there are some grammatical problems with that question or statement or whatever, but I’ll answer the question.

    You ARE a Mormon if you are a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Regardless of your beliefs or practices you continue being a Mormon until you are excommunicated or you officially have your name removed from church records.

    So, your “Mormonism” would not be challenged. Your faith would be. Your obedience would be. Your judgment would be.

    Would you be accepted in a ward? Absolutely. You would be welcomed to attend and participate. That said, depending on the actions that your “religious liberalism” lead you to, you might not be worthy to participate in some things, but that would be your choice.

  19. I didnt bring up the subject of whether or not the term Mormon refers esclusively to the CoJCoL-dS.

    You did, however, comment on the wrong post.

  20. The wrong post? Is there a rule that I am unaware of regarding which posts I should be commenting on?

  21. The topic of monopolizing the term “Mormon” was on a different thread. I suspect you had multiple MSP windows open when you first commented. Glad to see you like this site.

    Before you move on and troll elsewhere, care to comment on my @74?

  22. Comment 40 of this thread (Chanson):

    “In Mormonisms case, its reasonable to call yourself Mormon and/or LDS and not be affiliated with the CoJCoL-dS.”

    My first post was in specific response to Chanson, but I guess to I should have referenced the comment # so as to avoid the wrath of being accused of commenting on the wrong thread.

    As to your #74, you are just proving my point. The only place you can find any reference to non-Mormons being referred to as Mormons is in response to the Mormon Church making their statement. There are no examples of non-Mormons simply referring to themselves as Mormons without some sort of attached explanation of why they are calling themselves Mormons when they really are not Mormons at all.

    I’m right. You’re wrong. I win. You lose. Get over it. Move on.

  23. JJL9 — Yes, the term “Mormon” has a definition, but “member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” isn’t it. “Mormon” is not a registered trademark of any one particular branch of the Restoration movement, nor has its use been traditionally confined to one branch.

    Ms. Jack wrote an excellent post on this topic just this past week — specifically gathering up references of other Mormon groups that have traditionally used the term “Mormon” and claim the right to self-identify as such.

    Here are a couple of public statements from other Mormon groups. For example, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (note the lack of hyphen — these guys aren’t the Mormons you might think they are):

    As people, we prefer to be called Latter Day Saints. We have occasionally been called by short nicknames, including Mormons, True Latter Day Saints, Original Latter Day Saints, Voree Mormons, Wisconsin Mormons, Islanders, Beaver Island Mormons, Great Lakes Mormons, Michigan Mormons, Primitive Mormons, Seventh-day Mormons, and Strangites, depending on the context and place.

    […] Though members of the church prefer to be greeted as Latter Day Saints, we acknowledge that where the different churches are compared and contrasted in printed works, there needs to be some differentiation. For that purpose the term Great Lakes Mormons, parallel to the term Rocky Mountain Mormons (now used by many professional historians), is most historically specific.

    And a statement from an umbrella organization of several Fundamentalist Mormon groups:


    The Principle Voices Coalition has learned that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has sent a letter to media outlets asking that the term fundamentalist Mormon not be used. In the recent past, the Church has insisted that we instead be defined as polygamous sects, even though most of us are not (and do not refer to ourselves as) polygamists.

    We strenuously object to any efforts to deprive us and others of the freedom to name and describe ourselves by terms of our own choosing. Fundamentalist Mormons have been referred to by that name since the 1930s, often by the Church itself. We are proud of our Mormon heritage. Plural marriage is only one of the tenets of our religion, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through Joseph Smith.

    Ironically, the LDS Church has been justifiably uncomfortable with repeated assertions by members of some Christian denominations that Latter-day Saints are not Christians. In many ways, we consider ourselves to be adherents to Mormonism (and Christianity) no less than were Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. What distinguishes us from the modern, mainstream Church is that we have endeavored to observe the original, fundamental precepts of the restored Gospel, while the Church itself has, since the early 1900s, repudiated several of them.

    Now, if you’d like to discuss the evidence, that’s fine, but please do not forget our commenting policy: “We ask everyone to make a good-faith effort to keep their comments civil and constructive.”

  24. The statement Ms. Jack found from the Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ is also quite interesting:

    Unlike many other Mormon faiths we do not believe that a prophet should be chosen because he is popular, or because he has a great sense of humour or has nice manners or even has the voice of the people.

    It’s interesting because the most obvious “other Mormon faith” they’re contrasting themselves with in that statement is the Community of Christ, not the CoJCoL-dS. Their contrast with the biggest branch of Mormonism comes later in the same paragraph:

    A prophet is not the head of a corporation, nor is he the chairman of a board of directors.

  25. I’m going to preempt JJL9 and say that he probably thinks that these groups aren’t actually calling themselves “Mormon,” but instead are only calling themselves “Mormon in relation to ‘real’ Mormonism…to get on the bandwagon with ‘real’ Mormonism. In ‘real life,’ in their actual dealings with each other, they don’t actually use the term, because they know the battle is already lost.”

    I’m trying to think of a parallel to this kind of logic. The only thing that comes to mind is how some people think Native Americans are being “reactionary” when they make claims about their sacred culture being put in museums for white people. The sacredness is assumed already dead, which is why it’s in a museum — when it fact, it’s not dead at all, which is why the claim is being made.

  26. Alan — That’s a good point. In this case, however, I don’t think it’s that that people imagine the other Mormon branches dead as much it is they’re thinking the other branches are so small that the CoJCoL-dS can ignore them and pretend like they don’t exist. And apparently sometimes the CoJCoL-dS succeeds in convincing the press that the other branches don’t exist (or don’t have a right to self-identify as Mormons).

  27. I’m in the process of ‘converting’ to…whatever this is I’m converting to. I’m trying to decide on a moniker… currently reviewing and considering liberal Mormon, open Mormon, uncorrelated Mormon, New Order Mormon (which I’m not loving since I always think New World Order and Montana Freemen when I hear the ‘NOM’ term). What about “Reformon”? I’m also considering the term “Dehlinite” or “Brooksite” but I don’t think they would approve. Tenants of my new faith: doubt is good, questions are good, certainty is suspect, do good to all, be kind to all, be honest with yourself and others about what you do and do not know and believe, define your own place in the Mormon tradition, and VOCALLY support freedom and equality, especially for those whom the church has oppressed (blacks, gays, women, intellectuals). For me it also involves active participation at my church and keeping in line with behaviors such as drinking, sex rules, etc.

  28. “…in their actual dealings with each other, they dont actually use the term, because they know the battle is already lost…

    No, not because the battle is already lost, but because that’s simply not a term they use to describe themselve in normal, every day life. It’s just not. You can argue philisophically about their “right” to call themselves Mormons all you want, but you are either misinformed or disingenuous if you continue asserting that they do, in fact, in nomral, every-day life, refer to themselves as Mormons.

    It has nothing to do with the branches being “dead” or that they don’t have “the rigth” to self-identify as Mormons.

    I have the right to self-identify as Chanson or Alan if I want to, but that’s just silly. I’m not Chanson or Alan and I know I’m not and so do Chanson and Alan.

  29. Hey Not Knowing,

    If you want to keep “in line with behaviors such as drinking, sex rules, et…”, what exactly is it that you don’t want to do with respect to the CoJCoL-dS?

  30. Not Knowing — I’d advise against taking the name of a living person as a primary label. Simply because — no matter how much you love what they’ve said so far — you can never be sure what they’re going to say next. Then you may be faced with the sticky question of how/whether to shed the label, and lots of annoying explanations later.

    If you’re planning to continue practicing Mormonism, then New Order Mormon is a good choice (despite its drawbacks) simply because there’s already a community, and people will already understand what you mean. DAMU, open Mormon, and uncorrelated Mormon are also good for this. If you decide not to practice anymore, then “cultural Mormon” is a popular choice.

  31. I have the right to self-identify as Chanson or Alan if I want to, but thats just silly. Im not Chanson or Alan and I know Im not and so do Chanson and Alan.

    Too funny — I was actually thinking of using this example. Just because I like to call myself “Chanson” (and lots of people know me by that name), that doesn’t make it reasonable for me to declare that nobody else is allowed to be called “Chanson”. I suspect there are other people out there who use this same Internet handle, and I’m certain that there are others who call themselves Alan.

  32. Chanson, you are battling against a straw man.

    I never said “nobody else is allowed to be called” anything.

    It has nothing to do with that. You keep hearing what you want to hear, but not what I’m actually saying. They have the right to call themselves Mormons, but they DON’T call themselves Mormons, except when discussing what relation they have to the Mormons, you know, the people that are actually called Mormons.

    We are nearly 100 comments into this and you still can’t admit that none of you can find a single example where a non-Mormon, in normal, everyday use, refers to him or herself as Mormon. Because they don’t.

    They have the right to, just like I have the right to call myself Chanson, but they don’t for the same reason that I don’t. Because it wouldn’t make sense. I’m not Chanson, and everyone who knows me, knows I’m not Chanson.

  33. LOL. Are you serious?

    We have established that there are groups that, in public, attempt to explain that they have the right to be considered “Mormon” or that they consider themselves to be one of many “Mormon” faiths or whatever.

    Again, you seem to be hearing what you want to hear, but now what I’m saying.

    You cannot provide a reference in which a non-Mormon, in every-day life (not in a media setting in which they are explaining their faith and comparing it to the Mormon faith), simply refers to him or herself as Mormon, without explaining things. They simply don’t call themselves and each other Mormons.

    They could if they wanted to, but they don’t.

    We’re on comment 95 and I think I’m bowing out. None of you can find any such example, and even if you found 1, it would be such an anomoly, such a rare exception, that it would be meaningless. If these people called themselves and each other Mormons and were simply referred to as Mormons by others, then you would find thousands of such examples. But they don’t just call themselves or each other Mormons, and no one else does either.

  34. OK, it’s time for me to stop playing your little game since it is clear to everyone here (including you) that it is absurd to ask me to produce “a non-Mormon who refers to him or herself as Mormon.” The point is to produce a Mormon, who refers to him/herself as such, who is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Which I have done. Thanks for helping us clarify this issue.

  35. You’re the one playing games. You know what I mean by non-Mormon. I think it’s pretty clear. And you have not produced a single such example in ordinary speach, outside of some sort of media explanation of their religion.

    Nice try. You really suck at debating.

  36. Yea, if you can’t beat ’em in a legitimate debate, just call them trolls. That makes a lot of sense. Do you even know what the term means? I guess it means someone who disagrees with you and proves themselves to be right.

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