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.

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.
Giles:Controlled circumstances.

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.


Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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45 Responses

  1. Seth R. says:

    Anyone does better arguing against the opposition on their home turf.

    Have you ever gone onto a blog where you are the only one holding your position on an issue people feel passionate about?

    If so, then you know how exhausting it is.

  2. Andrew S says:


    I don’t think it’s so much that “anyone does better arguing against the opposition on their home turf” but that “anyone does better getting weaker opposition against which to argue on their home turf.”

    It seems to me that the exhaustion that you face from going out to a blog where you are the sole person holding that opinion is precisely because you will get more (and better) opposition away from your home turf — especially if you think of your home turf as a place where you don’t even have to “provide a platform for [your opposition’s] beliefs, ideas, and arguments”.

  3. Seth R. says:

    Naw, actually it’s the tag-team concept.

    You get tired carrying on a debate with one person after a while – no matter how bad or how good they are. It’s much easier if you can count on a comrade to jump in and take over the job for a bit.

    It actually doesn’t have much to do with the quality or lack of quality of the debate. Even debating on a blog full of ignorance can be really tiring.

  4. Andrew S says:

    Well, here’s the thing: you can certainly bring as many people as you want to tag in or out. At some sites, you are completely allowed to do that because anyone is free to comment.

    Of course, at some sites, that will not work, because the entire lot of them are likely to be banned/put on moderation/etc.,

    But that’s one reason why we are trying to keep a balanced set of permabloggers at W&T…so that no one ever feels like they are the “one” guy with the viewpoint, or even that there are only two.

  5. Bonnie says:

    Andrew, I’m disappointed that this was your tack, but I suppose it was your pulpit. You yourself acknowledged that *everyone* gets tired of having to defend a position after awhile, so I would have thought you wouldn’t be so reductionist about it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a lived thing, not just a discussed thing. To take something so multi-dimensional and try to describe it through this one-dimensional medium – a sliding scale along a line with TBM and NEM on different ends – this reduces it to unrecognizability. I know JMax and Bruce and Brian. They don’t deserve this. They don’t ever do it to you.

    If we’re going to discuss Mormonism with people who don’t want to live it fully, we don’t have to justify ourselves. We’re getting up early on Sunday mornings and teaching classes of 4-year-olds; we’re losing sleep praying over each other when someone’s in the hospital or loses a job; we’re watching each other’s kids and we’re gathering our own and reading to them the words of people we revere as prophets. We haven’t axe-murdered anyone, stolen anyone’s life savings, or cheated on our taxes. We’re just like you. And this hurts.

  6. Andrew S says:

    re 5,


    Who’s being reductionist? What do you mean one-dimensional medium? I have no idea what you mean by “NEM,” so I don’t know what it would mean to have a line with “TBM and NEM on opposite ends,” but my posts have been about pointing out that Mormonism is a whole lot more than that.

    And I have to thank chanson for pointing out that it does not do well to refer to Mormonism even as a spectrum — hence why I now refer to things like the belief map.

    What do you think I am giving JMax and Bruce and Brian that they do not deserve?

    You say, “If we’re going to discuss Mormonism with people who don’t want to live it fully, we don’t have to justify ourselves.” But what I’ve been saying in so many posts is — what does it mean to live Mormonism fully? We take so much for granted and I have challenged that at every point.

    Why don’t some people want to live Mormonism fully (for whatever value of “full Mormonism” you want to use)? I have asked this question at every point.

    When I speak about the divisions in the Bloggernacle, I’m not just talking about Main Street Plaza on one “end” and Millennial Star on the other “end.” I am talking about places like Wheat and Tares, By Common Consent, Times and Seasons, and a host of other sites. So you say, “We’re getting up early on Sunday morning and teaching classes to 4-year-olds,” and I’m saying, “and of that population of people getting up early on Sunday morning and teaching classes to 4-year-olds, this population cannot even AGREE what Mormonism is.” And so the people getting up early on Sunday morning and teaching classes to 4-year-olds who visit sites like “Wheat and Tares” or “By Common Consent” or “Times and Seasons” are called the MURMURNACLE by those people getting up early on Sunday morning and teaching classes to 4-year-olds who visit sites like “Millennial Star.”

    Why is that?!?! What good does THAT do?!?

  7. Seth R. says:

    Well, not everyone brings a posse with them to a debate. And in any case, they aren’t exactly something everyone has.

  8. Andrew S says:

    re 7,


    If someone goes into a debate without someone to “tag” in and out, though, that seems more like a personal problem…I mean, you can only make one criticism or the other, but not both.

    If you don’t have anyone who shares your views enough to back you up, that also seems more like a personal problem.

    I mean, I understand that living the so-called “authentic” lifestyle can be a pretty lonely and individual path too…but in that case, I can’t really complain about not having people to back me up…

  9. Bonnie says:

    The fact is, Andrew, the Bloggernacle doesn’t represent the active church. There. I’ve said it. It’s a very small subsection of people. Most of the people I know and work with IRL do not have a clue about what goes on in the ‘nacle. They aren’t idiots, or ostriches, they simply don’t explore their questions this way. This is not a good statistical sample.

    And the gospel cannot be understood without living it. That’s what I mean by reductionist. You can’t debate yourself to God or to faith or to understanding. You are talking apples and oranges with someone who is doing the Alma 32 experiment. And there is reason that Alma did not waste any time with the rameumptomites; they were not humble.

    You can only teach the gospel to humble people and they are the only ones who can understand it.

    Now someone on the outside of that kind of experiment upon the word can call it foolish but wise adherents turn their backs on that and proceed with the experiment. There is nothing in Alma 32 that suggest that to build great faith what they really needed to do was go back to Antionum and convince the rameumptomites that this was the path of faith. People aren’t duty-bound to engage in debate with people who aren’t really interested in pursuing a path of faith.

  10. Bonnie says:

    And NEM was a typo – I meant NOM.

  11. Andrew S says:

    re 9,


    To say that the Bloggernacle is a small subset of the active church is trivially true. You could say the same thing of Nothing Wavering. Most of the people you OR I work with IRL do not have a clue about anything that goes on in ANY internet Mormon blogging community WHATSOEVER. So what you say is not narrowly limited to blogs like “By Common Consent” or “Times & Seasons” or “Wheat & Tares” (Bloggernacle), but also to blogs like “Millennial Star” or “Sixteen Small Stones” (Nothing Wavering).

    …But it is fallacious to say that because most people do not “explore their questions this way” (e.g., on blogs) that therefore, that way of exploring questions is invalid. It is fallacious to say that because most members do not subscribe to Dialogue or Sunstone and do not participate in FAIR conference (YES, because most people also do not explore their questions via FAIR or apologetics!), or Sunstone symposium, or whatever else, that these things are invalid.

    And that is why I ask: WHO is being reductionist??? For you to reduce what “living it” means to exclude the internet, symposia, apologetics, and other things just because “most people don’t do it” seems far more reductionist than the alternative — to include these things and more.

    And I mean, it’s not just the internet. It’s not just symposia! It’s not just apologetics!

    You say, “You are talking apples and oranges to someone who is doing the Alma 32 experiment.” But here’s the thing: someone on the INSIDE of such experiment can still find it to be lacking. How can you make a bright line of those on the inside and those on the outside????

    The experiment isn’t foolproof. You can have people who are trying the word, and they don’t get answers, or they get answers the church doesn’t like.

    Your answer seems to be that all of these people are just not “humble,” that they are all on the outside of the experiment…but that’s precisely the problem. You are going to exclude far more people this way.

    And you know; maybe you don’t care. Maybe you only want to include the narrow set of people for whom it just happens to be working, and to hell with anyone else, and to hell with anyone for whom it once was working, but for whom it now doesn’t, and to hell with anyone who has any ideas on how to make it work for more people, but only if you look at it in a slightly different way.

    If that’s the case, then I truly am sorry for having wasted your time.

  12. ldsphilosopher says:

    “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?”

    As long as we live revealed truth, the world will always marginalize us in some way. This is the bread and butter of Mormonism. This is Lehi’s dream, in which those who work their way through the mists of darkness to the tree of life find the learned, the popular, the influential pointing their fingers in scorn.

    I almost feel like this question, and the sentiments expressed surrounding it (i.e., importance of not being marginalized because of our quaint religious doctrines and practices), is a little like someone standing at the tree of life, noticing that a vast portion of the learned and popular in the world think us strange and unacceptable, and saying, “What can we do so thateven if they don’t join usat least they like us?”

    The answer to that will almost always be to abandon the doctrines and practices they think to be strange. The answer will almost always be to change the church to meet the measuring stick of the world.

    And most faithful Latter-day Saints have no interest in that conversation. Because we simply don’t care if the world marginalizes us. We are called to be a peculiar people, and if that means that we aren’t always popular, then so be it.

  13. Bonnie says:

    Andrew, I’m just calling you out for calling them out. If you call someone thin-skinned because they don’t want to play in your playground, if you call them faithless because they don’t want to debate faith with you, you’re being unfair. You can do all of the discussion you want, explore your faith (or lack of it if that is your choice) in any way you want. But you have no ground to explore someone else’s faith.

    And surely you must understand that when you want to call it Mormonism when you encourage the engagement of something less, others who embrace all of it will find that distressing.

    I play in your playground. I have never said the hell with you. I’ve never thought it was a waste of time. You were just always nice to me and I thought you’d be nice to my friends.

  14. Andrew S says:

    re 12,


    I am beginning to see now. It was incorrect to even come from the perspective that people might want to see the church grow. No, what’s most important is keeping to fundamentals and principles and not compromising on those…even if that means unpopularity…

    re 13


    How can I reach someone who will not have me at their place without “calling them out”? Especially when others (e.g., Bruce) point out that this is probably the ideal way to communicate — by cross-talking from our locations, discussing others’ points.

    They don’t have to play in my playground. I will go over to their playground too. Why don’t we share a playground? But here’s the thing — what I’m seeing is they just do not want to play at all. They don’t want me to play at their playground. They don’t want to play at my playground. We can’t play at a shared playground. What conclusions am I supposed to draw when they argue that theirs is a rational faith, when they do not actually want to reason it — or if they only want to reason it with people who already believe it the way they do?

    What does it mean to be in a community, when you will define everyone as being individual? E.g., my faith VS. your faith VS. someone else’s faith?

    You say “you must understand when you want to call it Mormonism when you encourage the engagement of something less…” But here, this already begs the question — how can you put things on a scale of “more” or “less”? Who is putting things on a line?

    Yes, I surely understand that when Mormonism is defined differently, many people will find it distressing. Many folks will find what they believe and practice to be “all of Mormonism” — even while their “all” is mutually exclusive to someone else’s all.

    You say that you play in my playground. But I want to know why it has to be my playground vs. your playground. Why is it not “our playground”?

    Does being nice mean never challenging someone? Never engaging them? Just leaving them alone?

  15. Bonnie says:

    I like you Andrew. I’m glad to share a playground. You make awesome points, some of which I made in my treatise on the faithful participating in the ‘nacle, if you remember.

    The thing about faith is that the road is MUCH longer than it appears. If we take the leap of faith to embrace all we can see, much more opens up to us. The blessings attendant the faithful don’t stop at baptism or church activities or even temple blessings. They keep unfolding, growing deeper and stronger, until unbelievable things are available. Scuffling on the ‘nacle is a distracting activity when there is SO MUCH to explore.

    I’m challenged by life. Sometimes I venture into the ‘nacle because I’m a sucker for more challenge. Sometimes I let life be enough. I think others feel that way sometimes too.

  16. Andrew S says:

    re 15,


    I feel likewise for you, and also for Seth, and ldsphilosopher (ok, guys, group hug). I feel that I stay in balance from hearing a bunch of different viewpoints, especially since different viewpoints usually don’t come naturally to me (obviously not…for if they did, I would probably have those viewpoints…)

  17. Bonnie says:

    Well, maybe we’ll have better forums and better ways in the future to have all those voices join. I have faith. 🙂

  18. ldsphilosopher says:


    (1) If growth requires compromising with the world, measuring ourselves by their measuring stick, and abandoning revealed truth when it becomes unpopular, then screw growth.

    (2) If you don’t think God can work miracles, and continue this work, even while we live revealed truth and stand out as a peculiar people, then I’m not sure you believe in a God of miracles.

    I honestly feel like you are suggesting that the only way to carry God’s work forward is to neuter the Gospel of anything that might offend secularists.

  19. Andrew S says:

    re 18,


    I am of a few opinions regarding your feeling that I am suggesting that the only way to carry God’s work forward is to neuter the Gospel of anything that might offend secularists.

    1) A lot of the things that people say are part of the Gospel probably aren’t. There’s a lot of cultural/speculative/pseudodoctrinal stuff that people lump as the Gospel that could probably be culled.
    2) If the world is becoming more secular, there should be some response to this other than, “Well, there will always be people in the great and spacious building, so we don’t need to focus on that.”

    I don’t think that has to mean “neuter the Gospel of anything that might offend secularists”…rather…offend secularists only on the most critical, no-compromise-allowed issues.

  20. Seth R. says:

    Oh, I’m all in favor of some reform.

    But I doubt the “liberals” would like all my reform suggestions.

  21. Alan says:

    Andrew, when you say “your/my/our playground,” what are you referring to? The blogs with Mormon themes? The phenomenon that is Mormonism?

    My sense is that there are roughly three levels of insiderness with the phenomenon that is Mormonism. One: those who have temple recommends (Celestial). Two: those who call themselves Mormon regardless of their membership status (Terrestrial). Three: those who know about Mormonism but would not call themselves Mormon (Telestial). Blogs merely reflect this IRL divide, and while a person can clandestinely move between them online, trying to argue that they fall together “in the open” won’t work. Some people treat the internet like an extension of church, which means folks and opinions not allowed at church won’t be allowed on a particular blog. I agree this makes the faith seem “weak,” but it is what it is, and what’s the sense of trying to argue against it? — especially since you strike me someone who is Telestial. IOW, what is your dog in this fight?

  22. Andrew S. says:

    re 21


    I think the instances of “playground” used so far were used to narrowly describe to either various blogs with Mormon themes (where I suspect that ‘Main Street Plaza’ is seen as “my playground”)…or, more implicitly, to the rules of the games employed by various blogs (e.g., so the emphasis on debate and discussion to determine truth/value/etc., is seen as MSP, and by extension “my playground.”)

    But I do think that this can be applied more broadly to the phenomenon that is Mormon.

    Let’s look at your three categories of insider-ness…without getting into the theological can of worms that is the idea of people moving between kingdoms, I would state that at least in this world, people DO move fluidly between the levels of insiderness that you describe.

    The opposite of “online” isn’t “IRL,” but “offline”, btw. To show that point, a person can clandestinely move between them online, but they can also clandestinely move between them offline. (Hence you have “New Order Mormons” whose entire premise is being someone who maintains a temple recommend, regardless of if they call themselves Mormon or not.) I would say that the *clandestine* nature of movement is not as important as the fact that people in general move between these insider states.

    I was thinking (and perhaps that was erroneous) that people in the, say, “Celestial” level of insiderness would be concerned with why people move out of that level after having been in that level…and what might be done to prevent more people from moving out of that level.

    In that case, if they look at me as Telestial (which I don’t view myself as Telestial by your definition of the levels), then the question should be: how did I become Telestial? How do they prevent others like me from becoming telestial?

  23. Alan says:

    The opposite of online isnt IRL, but offline, btw.

    Haha. I guess I was thinking of dating sites, where you find out someone is different IRL than their online persona. Likewise, you can pretend to be “Celestial” online, but IRL you either have a temple recommend or you don’t. I guess the assumption I was working from is that faithful blogs treat people as potential wolves in sheep’s clothing in order to maintain the divide, whereas general Mormon-interest blogs don’t have a wolf/sheep meter.

    You can see this in J Max’s logic, his notion that Sunstone is a “parasite.” The conversations don’t stand on their own for him, apparently. The temple recommends are more important.

    I don’t know much about New Order Mormons, but isn’t the whole thing with them that they still keep their temple recommends? As far I know about you, you’re a nonbeliever who considers himself a cultural Mormon (since you said you’re not “Telestial.”) I’m pretty sure this means you ~can’t~ be “Celestial” like a NOM, unless you want to lie for your temple recommend on the questions of Jesus as Savior and sustaining the leaders of the Church as “divinely inspired.”

    You didn’t answer my question about but what your dog is in this fight. What makes it worth your time to try to reach out to folks like J Max? Why not let them have their own little world, rather than try to drag them kicking and screaming into the bigger world? Those folks get their time in the sun, but then they eventually find out that their personal agendas never really matched up with the Church’s, because the Church is significantly interested in the outside world. Look what happened to those Maxwell Institute apologists.

  24. Andrew S. says:

    re 23,


    Re: dating site example, I think people simply underestimate that people present different personas even in just offline venues. You present considerably differently at work than you do with your friends. The fact that online, you have some different options (e.g., you aren’t there physically, so you have more options to present differently) does not mean it is “fake.” If I am trying to impress you with my online persona (and so I have a different picture, and try to present different interests, or whatever, in an attempt to impress you), then how is this any different in *kind* (rather than degree) than from my trying to clean up my house when company is coming over, when I know that I normally am a total slob?

    The thing about being “Celestial” offline is…having a temple recommend doesn’t mean that you fit the qualities required to be Celestial. It just means that you are good at answering certain questions in socially accepted ways. New Order Mormons are very good at doing that (as you address in your 3rd paragraph). In fact, I don’t think people would even be clued in to the existence of such a thing as New Order Mormonism *without* there being spaces on the internet for people to “take off the mask” they wear offline.

    BUT…that all being said, I think I agree with the basic idea you’re trying to carry across. At many Mormon blogs, one’s belief/activity status isn’t “checked,” and so one can more easily move from identifying as one way or another…and there are other blogs and aggregators (e.g., Nothing Wavering, Millennial Star) that have developed to oppose that.

    I don’t see J. Max’s logic as really working as cleanly as he wants it too…for the temple recommends to be more important than the conversations, it would have to be true that any given venue is full of people without temple recommends. I might buy that that is the case for most of the participants at Main Street Plaza or at Sunstone, but J. Max also calls for faithful members not to participate in the Bloggernacle….where here are two problems: the bloggernacle would see themselves as being faithful, and most of the major bloggernacle participants do have temple recommends.

    Getting back to the NOM point, the reason why I can’t be “Celestial” is because I don’t lie for my temple recommend. But what separates me from a NOM? Well, it’s not the nonbelief. It’s that I don’t have the family/friend environment where I feel pressured to lie to maintain relationships (e.g., I don’t face potential divorce/falling out/family drama because of my disaffection.)

    I don’t really know how to interpret your last paragraph. To me, the church being significantly interested in the outside world does not mean that folks will “eventually find that their personal agendas never really matched up with the Church’s” (e.g., because they only want to “have their own little world”)…but rather that both groups want to be interested in the outside world, but in different ways. I think J. Max understands this when he details that blogging is an inherently public media. And as someone who considers himself as having a foot in and a foot out (that’s my dog), I see myself as someone who can provide some sort of different viewpoint.

    Look, I’m not a non-Mormon, completely disinterested in what happens. It’s not like, “no matter what happens with the church, I will have no opinions or thoughts about it whatsoever.” These are my people too. I don’t know how to explain it…

  25. dba.brotherp says:

    I think that there is a percentage of the population that have a personality trait that causes them great anxiety when a belief is challenged (directly or indirectly). To them, the question why did you leave is an indirect challenge to their beliefs and defense mechanism kicks in. They see it as illogical for someone to leave, and making no sense. This causes them to view the question itself as illogical and treat the reasons given with suspicion. So people end up talking past each other. At least that’s my working theory.

  26. Alan says:

    Andrew, to what end are you trying to offer a different viewpoint to someone like J Max (I don’t know the guy…I just read his “declining Sunstone” post — which, wow). Does having one foot in, one foot out, mean that you see enlightening/sharing/interacting with someone like him to be wound up with your own enlightenment? After your time in the ‘nacle, do you have any particular allegiances other than to “Mormons” generally?

  27. Andrew S. says:

    re 25,


    That is such a convenient explanation to explain away the other that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    re 26,


    I wouldn’t put it so one-sidedly. In other words, “enlightenment” isn’t a one-way street (e.g., with me being the enlightened and others being in need of enlightenment). I am certainly open to the possibility that there is something I’m not getting, and maybe I’ll come to better understand what that is…but I can only do that if the lines of communication are open. Which currently, they aren’t.

    I don’t know how to answer your last question.

  28. chanson says:

    Andrew — great discussion points! I would have joined in earlier, but I’ve been in trans-Atlantic transit (+ jet-lag recovery).

    Personally, I don’t usually get into extended back-and-forth debates on the Internet — and almost never do it outside my home turf (Main Street Plaza). I think the impression you give to the bystanders is more important than the impression you give to your adversary, and growing the debate too long often only serves to obscure the key points and arguments. So I don’t care if a site is “welcoming” or if the locals dog-pile me. As long as they let my comment stand and don’t delete/edit it, I’m happy that I’ve had my say.

    If you make your point well, it doesn’t matter if fifty people pile on to tell you how wrong you are. The readers get some advantage simply by being exposed to an alternate viewpoint and can judge for themselves which positions make the most sense.


    The answer to that will almost always be to abandon the doctrines and practices they think to be strange. The answer will almost always be to change the church to meet the measuring stick of the world.

    I totally disagree with your first statement. If you read here regularly, you’ll find a common theme is that people aren’t happy with the church dumping/deleting/de-emphasizing/denying the unique doctrines and practices that we were once taught to stand up for. See, for example, this post, and especially Badger’s comments.

  29. dba.brotherp says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I don’t quite understand your comment to me @27. I don’t know if you thought I was trying to be offensive or that maybe the possibility of it being true was shocking, or something else. I was not trying to be offensive so I thought I would give you an example of what I am trying to say.

    My dad for example cannot understand how my sister can find happiness living with another woman. To him is just doesnt add up, it’s illogical. Since the church excludes my sister, because of her love toward her partner, (although my dad would argue that it’s my sister who is excluding the church) then she she can’t be happy because my dad believes that only true happiness can be found in the church.

    I see kind of the same thinking with some blogs. Some blogs are unwilling/unable to admitted that other people can see certain beliefs as not being true. Therefore they treat any explanations as hostile/suspicious and promptly delete them. I wish they would be more open to differences like here and Wheat and Tares but they aren’t.

  30. Andrew S says:

    re 29,


    I don’t think you were trying to be offensive. I just think it is too convenient to characterize the breakdowns in communication as being because “the other side” has some personality trait that means they can’t deal with being challenged. It absolves us of any responsibility to check to see how we are presenting ourselves and our message because, well, that’s just how they are.

  31. Andrew S. says:

    re 28,


    I find one part of your comment interesting:

    I think the impression you give to the bystanders is more important than the impression you give to your adversary, and growing the debate too long often only serves to obscure the key points and arguments. So I dont care if a site is welcoming or if the locals dog-pile me. As long as they let my comment stand and dont delete/edit it, Im happy that Ive had my say.

    It’s interesting because J. Max wrote a lot about the nature of blog debates being more about the effect on bystanders than on one’s adversary…of course, he was coming at that from a slightly different way (e.g., that’s why your comment *shouldn’t* stand).

    If you read here regularly, youll find a common theme is that people arent happy with the church dumping/deleting/de-emphasizing/denying the unique doctrines and practices that we were once taught to stand up for.

    This is a really good point, and I suppose the reforms that Seth alludes to in 20 would probably have a lot to do with going to distinctive doctrines that have been “correlated” away…

  32. chanson says:

    Its interesting because J. Max wrote a lot about the nature of blog debates being more about the effect on bystanders than on ones adversaryof course, he was coming at that from a slightly different way (e.g., thats why your comment *shouldnt* stand).

    Right, and I would argue that that attitude gives the impression that he fears his position is weak. If you’re on your home turf, surrounded by your friends, and someone comes by and posts a comment that is full of lies and/or of logical fallacies, you have every opportunity to present the evidence and arguments that demonstrate how wrong the other person’s position is. So what’s the problem?

    This is a really good point, and I suppose the reforms that Seth alludes to in 20 would probably have a lot to do with going to distinctive doctrines that have been correlated away

    I wonder if perhaps ldsphilosopher has been mostly talking to Christians on this topic…?

    I have definitely talked to Christians who like to see the CoJCoL-dS de-emphasize the unique doctrines (like eternal progression/exaltation to godhood, Heavenly Mother, three distinct personages of the Godhead) — because many Christians see the unique LDS doctrines as heresies, hence eliminating them brings them closer to salvation.

    However, I think people here are more likely to see this sort of “mainstreaming” (to help smooth LDS relations with the Religious Right) as extremely misguided.

    I think that some of the changes (and proposed changes) are (or would be) beneficial (eg. ending the priesthood/temple ban for blacks, ending the discrimination against homosexuals and women, opening the financial accounting). But obscuring all the unique doctrines by chopping the gospel discourse down to just the correlation topics was, IMHO, a huge mistake.

  33. dba.brotherp says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I hope that I wasn’t communicating that they will always be that way. That was not my intent. Communication is an inexact process because people communicate different ways (i.e. personality). If *you* (as a participant in the conversation) don’t try to understand why someone perceives an idea as threatening, the communication is stopped. But if *you* know why the idea is threatening, you can tailor your message to keep the conversation going. It doesn’t mean one can’t ask the hard questions or give the hard answers, it just means that one needs to ask the question/give answer in a way that will get will be best received depending on the person.

    On another note, I really enjoy your posts because they make me think and stretch my own understanding even though I don’t post comments much.

  34. Andrew S. says:

    re 33


    With your latest clarifying comments (e.g.,

    Communication is an inexact process because people communicate different ways (i.e. personality). If *you* (as a participant in the conversation) dont try to understand why someone perceives an idea as threatening, the communication is stopped. But if *you* know why the idea is threatening, you can tailor your message to keep the conversation going. It doesnt mean one cant ask the hard questions or give the hard answers, it just means that one needs to ask the question/give answer in a way that will get will be best received depending on the person.

    …I agree.

  35. Parker says:

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss dba’s comments about personality difference. That isn’t just pop psychology, but aspects of personality theory that has been studied for a century. Even such a simple concept as tolerance for ambiguity has been attributed to how people respond to information–some have a high tolerance and some a low tolerance. And it becomes very difficult to communicate some things to people with a low tolerance for ambiguity.

  36. Seth R. says:

    Pretty much Andrew.

    For instance, opponents of polygamy aren’t probably going to be too happy with my take on it.

  37. skyway says:

    Fascinating set of blog posts, thanks! What struck me most forcefully is how the most invested Mormons (as represented by 16 small stones and Millenial star) are also the most eager to jump on any deviation from an idiosyncratic far-right version of Mormonism as heresy. I mean, seriously, they’re all “burn the witch” about it.

    Mormonism is all about converting people. Those most likely to be the most evangelical are, surely, the same group that takes any deviation from whatever it is that they believe as apostasy. These same groups are completely stonewalling Andrew’s attempt to get them to declare what these beliefs are except for (to paraphrase) fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and a fanatical devotion to the leaders*.

    I cannot imagine a more unwelcoming group. Ask the wrong question, completely innocently, and immediately get shown to the door. Interesting. And the very definition of self-defeating.

  38. Seth R. says:

    Yeah skyway.

    Of course, the DAMU never acts like that.

    I also would reject your characterization of the folks at Millenial Star being the only people invested in Mormonism. I haven’t been on M* for years, and the last time I was on there, I was telling them what an idiot George W. Bush was. I regularly disagreed with the stance over there.

    And I’m not about to let anyone get away with calling them the only “authentic” Mormons.

  39. skyway says:

    I called the Mormons at Millenial Star the most invested, and thus the most likely to do missionary work; not the only ones invested. I never called them authentic.

  40. Hellmut says:

    Bonnie, I have lived the gospel and found that it does not work for systematic and philosophical reasons.

    As to your claim that only those who live the gospel, the last time I heard that from the Marxist Leninists on campus who said that only communists could understand Marxism. The political scientist Dolf Sternberger replied: “Yes, and only water buffalos can understand water buffalos.”

    Jesus saw that differently. He said that we shall know the false prophets by their fruits, not by our feelings and not through experience but through simple observation of their fruits.

    Your suggestion was certainly interesting but under scrutiny, it is neither compatible with the gospel nor with reason.

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