Mormon Intra-faith Dialogue Under Controlled Circumstances
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.
Our panel was in two parts. The entire first part was for each of the speakers (Rachel Whipple and Kaimi Wenger from Times & Seasons, Ziff from Zelophehad’s Daughters, Chanson and Chino Blanco from here, Cheryl Bruno and Bridget Jack Jeffries from Worlds Without End, and myself advocating for Millennial Star/Nothing Wavering) to present their points, and the second part was for panelists to respond to each other, and for the audience to ask questions of the panel.
When we went into that second point, almost the entire first half of the response section was various people wanting to respond to J. Max Wilson. After the session, several people commented to me saying that next time, we shouldn’t spend so much time focusing on J. Max. Perhaps. I’ll get to trying that after this post.
Again, if you haven’t read J. Max’s original post, please do, since I am responding to many of his points and points fromBruce Nielson’s post as well. What I suspect is that these posts have become the foundation that like-minded bloggers at Millennial Star and throughout Nothing Wavering may be adopting (see Brian Duffin’s post here).
First, I will state: I don’t have a problem with believers trying to maintain safe spaces for believers. I don’t have a problem if J. Max wants to limit who gets air time on his blog, either.
But here’s a word of advice to J. Max, Bruce, Brian, and whomever else — you’re giving the impression that you and your faith areweak when you do this.
The Evangelical Zeal
I was really hoping that Jack would have her thoughts posted already, but since she does not, I will paraphrase her (inevitably failing to do justice to her words)…but at some point in the conversation, she pointed out that as an evangelical Christian, she wouldgladlytake an opportunity to speak to non-believers. She would gladly take the opportunity to share her faith and participate in dialogue, because that’s what Christians are called to do.
I don’t think this is just an evangelical thing…I think that Mormons also are well aware of this impulse —every member a missionary, and so on. So, even in an environment where it seems like things are stacked against one, to believe means to persist anyway.
Dialogue Under Controlled Circumstances?
Jack had a great analogy…J. Max’s thoughts about engaging on blogs seem to create an artificial space. It’s like this conversation in Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Wesley:I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.
Giles:No danger of finding those here.
Orthodox, faithful bloggers are discussing their faith and making a case for their faith “under controlled circumstances.” They can defeat critics and ex-members “under controlled circumstances,” and answer the questions of doubting and questioning members “under controlled circumstances.” But the problem isthey aren’t going to find those here.
It’s not that doubters or questioners or even wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing do not exist. Vampires (or in J. Max’s lingo, “wolves and spiritual terrorists”) exist. But the ability to somehow find a way to control the engagement with those groups…that’s going to be increasingly difficult to do, and for the sake of J Max, his faith, and his church, I’m suggesting that he should deal with it. It’s a word of advice, not a threat.
J. Max says in his post that:
…I have presented some or all of these arguments to various bloggernacle defenders. Often they call me judgmental and complain about anti-intellectualism or chalk it up to a misunderstanding of what they are doing. Few have bothered to address the actual concerns (though perhaps that is more the fault of my flawed ability to explain them in the first place).
If I had a recording right now of the words that everyone said at the presentation — or even better yet, if J. Max had attended Sunstone himself — I could show him (or he could have seen for himself) that he had a captive audience of Bloggernacle (and Outer Blogness, and other) defendersbothering to address his actual concerns. Now, two and a half hours is really too much for me to post inone blog post(especially when I’m going at it based on memory), but I fear that the arrangement that we have of these blogs is leading to this issue. So, how could we meet?
Meet at your place?
OK, J. Max doesn’t have to let us comment over there. Bruce Nielson doesn’t have to let us post there. (And all of these comments, I actually levy at the Bloggernacle too…) As Brian Duffin says:
I personally have little tolerance for much of what I will call the incessant anti-Mormon diatribe that many of the disaffected seek to spew in the comments section of Millennial Star. When that happens, your comments are deleted and you are put directly into comment moderation. No warning necessary; no warning given. Why? Because it is our blog, not yours. Again, if you want a platform for your beliefs, ideas, and arguments, start your own blog.
OK, fine. You don’t want to deal with it; you don’t have to deal with it. I have actually created my own blog, BTW.
Meet at our place?
But just because I build it, they don’t haveto come. J. Max never has to come here. Bruce Nielson never has to come here, and despite his theoretically interesting idea of having blogs “cross-talk” and respond to each other from behind their own walls, the dearth of posts at Millennial Star responding to specific Main Street Plaza posts suggests to me that he indeed does not come here.
And that’s fine; I’m not saying they MUST come here. But they shouldn’t claim that we are playing exactly the same game they are (but just failing to own up to it because we use invisible methods)…from Bruce’s post:
The means of creating the boundaries of all these communities seems to be entirely invisible to the members of those communities and most of them are (in my opinion anyhow) in open denial of how they are actively maintaining their boundaries. (Id argue except for Nothing Wavering where there is an increasing acceptance of visible boundaries over invisible ones. Though honestly I dont think were there yet either and often use the very same invisible boundary techniques Im about to describe.)
Now to make my opinions even less popular, I also have an opinion on the purpose of using invisible boundary maintenance. I believe it is, in part, to keep up the mythology that we are having an open discussion where anyone can participate freely unlike the Mormon Church etc etc where only one side gets a voice. (I believe very strongly in what I call symmetry. Essentially the idea that we all have a lot more in common then we claim we do because we use similar techniques but disguise from ourselves that were doing the very same thing we complained about in that other community. So its easy to complain The Mormon Church shuts people out while also shutting people out in your own community and just not being aware that youre doing it too.)
I will be the first to admit that at a place like MSP, you are going to have your opinions challenged. AND I will even concede thatnot all opinionsare going to be challenged to the same extent or degree as one another (so I will buy the “safe zone” hypothesis…this is also why I am trying to do something different at Wheat & Tares — as I wrote a while back, I try to shatter safe zones, much to the chagrin of folks who are really hurting who feel I may be giving voice for their abusers to perpetuate the abuse.).
But we never say, like Brian says, that “if you want a platform for your beliefs, ideas, and arguments, start your own blog.” (There may be other reasons why we have to part ways, but they aren’t simply because of the content of what you say.)I believe, in fact, that Wheat & Tares is one of the only Mormon-space blogs where if you piss a permablogger off, the permas will actually have a discussion on whether we should extend an opportunity to you to guest post! We actively try to get people on board so we don’t get in a lull of everyone commenting attaboys.
The fact is that Brian has to have his post about deleting comments and putting them in comment moderation because the fact is that weare perfectly willing to go over to his place. We are perfectly willing to have a discussion with him, even though he doesn’t seem to want that discussion no matter what.
Stay at home; talk on phone?
So, let’s get back to this cross-talk idea of Bruce’s. An admirable idea, I do believe, even if I think it will lead to one choir preaching at another choir rather than anything really worthwhile, but still…it’s an admirable idea…if people did it.
Every week (almost without fail), chanson or postmormongirl has a day (usually Sundays, but sometimes other days) where one of them goes through Outer Blogness and picks out noteworthy articles to publicize. But here’s the thing you might notice if you check Outer Blogness (or your referral traffic statistics) — we are extensively more open to linking to believing, faithful, and other blogs than faithful, believing blogs are to linking to us. I don’t see a “Sunday in the Bloggernacle,” and as many people should be well aware (J. Max included), certain elements of the Bloggernacle will drop you off the Mormon Archipelago without a moment’s delay. And of course, as J. Max concludes in his article declining Sunstone:
I createdNothingWavering.orgspecifically to help marginalize the bloggernacle; to give faithful LDS bloggers a venue in which they could publicize their blogs without having to mix their voices with apostates and wolves.
So I don’t think we will see much cross-talk from there. (Yes, I am aware that J. Max isn’t equivalent to everyone in Nothing Wavering, and neither is Steve Evans equivalent to the Bloggernacle.)
Who Needs Whom?
J. Max writes that:
…sometimes all you have to do is provide an alternative, draw an imperfect line, in order to create the contrast needed to help marginalize and separate. The more faithful, believing members who withdraw from the bloggernacle, the more marginal it will become, and the less influence it will have.
Many of these arguments also apply to Sunstone. The fact is that the church doesnt need Sunstone at all. If Sunstone were to suddenly fall apart and disappear it would have zero effect on the church. Sunstone, on the other hand, is completely dependent on the church for its continued existence. If the church were to suddenly fall apart and disappear, Sunstone would be completely obliterated.
Sunstone is a kind of religious organizational parasite; it weakens and hurts the host upon which, ironically, it depends to survive.
Likewise, Sunstone and the bloggernacle both depend on the participation of at least some faithful members of the church in order to claim a degree of legitimacy. They need to be able to point to at least a few articles and symposium participants who are faithful in order to not be marginalized completely.
If J. Max had been to Sunstone, he might be aware from Ziff’s stats that the top Bloggernacle blogs surpass the top Nothing Wavering blogs in comments and posts, so the comments about who is marginalizing whom is a bit funny. And Holly has written, as I mentioned before, on the real relationship that Sunstone has to the church.But here’s what I would say: think bigger.
Again, I give this as a word of advice and not as a threat: what could make the church “fall apart and disappear”? Now, maybe for J. Max, the only answer might be if the church somehow became apostate and strayed from God’s will. But for many other people, we recognize that how the church is seen by non-members, and how its actions are seen by non-members, and how its believers actions are seen by non-members…all of these things matter. In the billions of people on this earth, Mormonism is already marginal. But for the 13.1 million members that the church (not unproblematically) would like to claim as Mormons, the church needs to address how it will, in the future, keep these guys from joining the other billions of people in deeming Mormonism to be marginal.
- How do you make someone identify as Mormon, and actuallywant to do so? (If you’re only paying attention to the people who would fit in at Nothing Wavering, you’re missing out.)
- How do you make someone who is not Mormon at least feel Mormonism is something admirable, legitimate, and positive for the country or for the world? (If you’re only paying attention to the people who are already satisfied, who already share your opinions about the gospel or the church or politics, you’re missing out.)
I submit all these things as a friend — although maybe you have different standards for your friends and your foes.