Sunday in Outer Blogness: Books Edition!
There was a bit of a convergence of book posts this week! Adam Lee reviewed an LDS-interest book that I was not aware of — I need to get a hold of it. Knotty reviewed one of our MAA Books: Sacred Road. And did you know that John Gustav-Wrathall wrote a book? Then there was my review of Johnny Townsend’s new book. Other books I plan to read (when I’m not too busy drawing, learning German, designing Lego sets, etc.) include It’s Not About The Sex My Ass and The Lost Book of Mormon.
Discussion continues over lds.org’s essays on early Mormon polygamy. Considering the damning stuff they admitted to (espousing moral relativism), it’s interesting to note what they left out:
One would expect a historical essay to discuss what we know, but in this case the emphasis is squarely on what we donâ€™t know, or at least what the LDS church says we donâ€™t know. In discussing Fanny Alger, recognized by some as Smithâ€™s first plural wife, the essay states, â€œSeveral Latter-day Saints who had lived in Kirtland reported decades later that Joseph Smith had married Alger, who lived and worked in the Smith household, after he had obtained her consent and that of her parents. Little is known about this marriage, and nothing is known about the conversations between Joseph and Emma regarding Alger.â€ The second sentence leaves open the possibility that Joseph obtained Emmaâ€™s consent before marrying Fanny and ignores testimony from others who say Emma was outraged when she discovered the relationship. Most of the essay follows this pattern of carefully worded statements that are superficially true but give a misleading impression.
Even the faithful would like the CoJCoL-dS to make it clear that it wasn’t OK for Joseph Smith to pressure 14-year-olds to have sex with him, instead of claiming it was all God’s fault. Of course, blaming Joseph Smith for that stuff would lead to some credibility problems.
So the faithful have hit upon a new solution: “Pastoral Apologetics”! This apparently amounts to giving up trying to explain or even apologize for Mormonism’s “issues” — just focus on how wonderful it is to be Mormon. This was illustrated by Adam Miller’s Letter to a CES Student, which — despite the obvious reference in the title — has nothing to do with the famous CES Letter. Andrew S. isolated one of the big problems with this approach, namely that the experience Mormonism offers is actually harmful/hurtful for a lot of people. I wish I could link directly to some of the comments on Adam’s post, but let me at least quote one representative one:
What if Mormonism IS the poison arrow? For women, Mormonism requires a perpetual second-class status. For Native Americans, the Book of Mormon obscures the true history of indigenous peoples behind a mythology of â€œfilthy and loathesomeâ€ Lamanites. For LGBT people, Mormonism engenders self-loathing with the requirement of celibacy or mixed-orientation marriages. For part-member families, Mormonism demands the exclusion of families from temple sealing ceremonies and eternal separation from those loved ones who refuse to convert. For African Americans, Mormonism requires the belief in a God who punished them for the sins of their â€œancestor Cain.â€ The list goes on and on. Mormonism is the poison arrow. Once we remove that arrow, the healing can begin.
I have only one beef with Andrew’s response:
Unfortunately, Adamâ€™s last post got picked up in the disaffectosphere, so many disaffected Mormons also gave their criticism.
In what sense is that “unfortunate”? The title of the letter implied that it was directed at the disaffected, and the “disaffectosphere” made some excellent points. I think it is only unfortunate if we assume that open letters from the faithful to the disaffected are not actually meant for the disaffected, hence it’s inconvenient/annoying for the faithful to encounter responses that challenge the narrative that they’d like to project onto us.
At the same time, a lot of liberal Mormons are not happy that the CoJCoL-dS is taking a similar approach to the scripture-study curriculum.
Meanwhile, Kate Kelly is still excommunicated. Yep, the church’s gender problem isn’t going away any time soon (despite baby steps). On the bright side, here in Outer Blogness we have a real-life case of a woman who was ordained to the priesthood of the CoJCoL-dS:
This leads into other questions. Since I was ordained as an Aaronic priesthood holder and am legally female, does that mean I can bestow the priesthood on my other spiritual sisters? (Yes, I know the church has very carefully avoided addressing transgender issues on a deeper level.) Will I be male or female in the Celestial Kingdom? Donâ€™t forget the ever popular, â€œAre you sure having a harem with eternally pregnant wives is actually how I want to spend my afterlife?â€ If they answer yes, Iâ€™m going to remind them that atheists offer a much better deal.
Also, the closest thing to a canonized latter-day revelation that the CoJCoL-dS has produced in years — was it actually taken from an amicus brief filed by some lawyers?
In scripture study, we get to learn all the crazy that went into the definition of the word “jeremiad,” including some questionable sexual metaphors. The latest “Every Jot and Tittle” commandment was an equally disturbing image from the OT: Circumcise the foreskin of your heart. Not to be outdone, the Book of Mormon offers some fab parenting skills:
While it’s totally reasonable for a parent to wish one of their children had some of the better qualities of another child, it’s not at all reasonable to open a heart-to-heart talk with that sentiment. Alma basically begins with, “I noticed you’re not as awesome as your brother. Why can’t you be more like him?” Corianton probably tuned out right away and I don’t blame him for it at all.
(I think modern parenting is better.)
OK, enough heavy stuff — it was Halloween! It’s fun for all, and it’s great because there are no mandatory emotions! …Except pretending to be afraid. Plus you have to put up with Christians distributing Bible verses with the candy… Well, I guess nothing is perfect.
I hope you had a fun Halloween and a fun weekend! Happy reading!
So exciting to have so many books to read!
I think that a lot of bloggernacle bloggers really don’t respond well when their posts hit a high-traffic place like r/exmormon. I have seen a lot of posts get shut down (e.g., comments turned off) when this has happened. Adam didn’t respond at all in the comments, but another T&S poster made some comments about the post being picked up at r/exmormon, and it just seemed like people didn’t want to address that. So, I found that unfortunate. To address one of your comments specifically:
There’s a dichotomy I’ve noticed for a while from some bloggernacle types…like, there seems to be a distinction between faithful questioners and the disaffected…with the former representing people who could be reasonably swayed by the sorts of nontraditional argumentation that the bloggernacle would like to put out…while the latter represents a “lost cause” that is “too far gone.”
So, FWIW, I don’t think Adam was meaning to reach the disaffected. I don’t know if he would personally say that we are a lost cause, but I think there is that sentiment. This is notwithstanding the title of his post (which does seem to pay pretty direct homage to Jeremy Runnells/Letter to a CES Director).
(But, as a P.S., I think this sort of dichotomy is kinda problematic. Even if I were to concede that there are two populations of people undergoing faith crisis, my problem is that it’s really easy for a “faithful questioner” to become “disaffected” because the answers are just too foreign.)
@2 Good points. I think the title itself (because of its obvious connection with Runnells’ letter) was probably the most problematic aspect since that wasn’t really the audience or issue set he meant to address.
I find the conversation begun by Adam Miller’s letter really fascinating and appreciate seeing it highlighted and continued here. One question, though: Andrew, I don’t completely understand what you mean in this sentence:
Would you elaborate a bit more on what you’re saying? I don’t quite get how the answers are foreign or how that turns faithful questioners into the disaffected.
So, there are a number of questions people can have about the church — and we already know most of them. Questions about Joseph Smith’s character, about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, translations of BoM and BoA, etc.,
I’m willing to concede that some people are faithful questioners who are just looking for reasonable answers to these things and to stick with the church.
What they get are traditional apologetics, which basically confirms the basic critical facts while then arguing that critics are missing some sort of context or whatever (Oh, so maybe they saw the plates…but with spiritual eyes! Maybe there is a missing papyrus…or maybe he translated through inspiration rather than secular means)…and then you have pastoral apologetics, which basically tries to move away from the fact claims to pragmatic claims.
But both groups make answers that don’t sound credibly Mormon. They aren’t what the church continues to teach during Sunday School, publish as Seminary and Institute lessons, have missionaries present, etc., For the pastoral apologists, it’s usually worse — because they are appealing to things distinctly outside of Mormonism (such as Buddhism, Fowler’s stages of faith, etc., etc.,) and then bootstrapping it to Mormonism (“Accepting life as it comes” [roughly summarizing] is now “grace”).
So, even if there is a difference between people who are trying to make Mormonism work and people who have given up on Mormonism, it’s very for people in the former category to move into the latter because there aren’t really credible answers for a lot of people to stick around.
very easy for people*
@5: OK, yes. That all makes sense.
I often find this move away from fact claims to pragmatic claims extremely galling, especially when at its most blatant, it boils down to “So what if a lot of the church’s truth claims aren’t actually true. You have to stay active because the church needs you!”
That’s some of what I find so dreadful about this utterly unenlightened post by Melody on Exponent II a few months back: given that many women in the ExII community feel abused by the church, she was straight-up asking them to put the well-being of their abuser ahead of their own well-being—which is, of course, a classic way of silencing victims and letting abusers off the hook.
And her response to having this pointed out was to delete all such comments.
Because, as you say, she didn’t have any answers that were credibly Mormon, and she was only writing to the small sliver of “faithful questioners” who could find anything nourishing in the insipid pap she offered.
You’re right — that ExII post is really a great encapsulation of the problems with this approach. Like, I don’t doubt Melody’s sincerity that she will do whatever she can to help…but she is not the institution. She does not have the ability to fix what is wrong.
She can’t fix what’s wrong, but she can perpetuate and intensify the trauma the church has inflicted by telling people that they are somehow obligated to stay because she and the church need us there.
I overheard someone say that the LDS Church may not be *the* church of Christ, but is *a* church of Christ. The church, of course, has always claimed that it is not only *the* church of Christ, but the *only* church of Christ. In the face of that, how do people find their way to advocating the Church as *a* church of Christ?
I wonder that as well. It’s like they never read the First Vision.
Plus, If it’s only “a” church of Christ, why is there any particular need to do missionary work? Why should so much of the church’s extensive resources be dedicated to convincing people to join a church they leave with such great frequency? Why not let them just be happy in their church, which is probably “a” church of Christ as well?
I just started looking over Andrew’s responses to Seth Payne’s pastoral apologetics post, and I completely agree that the philosophy and theology that pastoral apologetics require are contrary to what the CoJCoL-dS actually teaches.
Personally, though, the point that bothers me more about the pastoral apologists (and other post-belief faithful) is the following:
The church teaches that you need to be a faithful, active Mormon because it is the true church and its teachings are true. A lot of people — upon discovering that the church’s claims are, in fact, not true — discover that they want to continue participating anyway. So they have this grand epiphany that there are reasons other than “the church is true” for wanting to be a part of it. (Of course there are.)
The conflict is that for most people, upon seeing the church for what it is, they really don’t want to continue participating and don’t want anything further to do with the institution. The pastoral apologists and non-traditional believers then sometimes wrongly conclude that the leavers are just to simplistic in their worldview to grok this wonderful epiphany that there’s more to being a Mormon than believing it’s the only true church.
I feel like these guys are the epitome of “too clever by half”…
To quote Ortega y Gasset, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”
Mormonism is the hand many people have been dealt with and some try playing their cards in a game with changing rules.
I’m supposing that maybe, some, Mormon pastoral apologists are trying to create for themselves possibilities in the framework of Mormonism.
The Corporate church and their portfolio are going to remain a strong regional power and affect the lives of those who are not institutional members. While one may not want anything further to do with the institution, the institution may have other plans. There is more to Mormonism than being members of the one true church.
So from this viewpoint, it may not be a conclusion of others having simplistic worldview, but a realistic assessment of needing others to create the possibility of, I dunno, a kinder, gentler church. A compassionate Christian, as well as a motley Mormon.
Credible answers are not needed, being the change you want to see is.
I am all for people trying to create the possibility of a kinder, gentler church.
But I think that one has to recognize that the church actually is not all that kind and not all that gentle to effectively do this. I’d be more ok with pastoral apologists if they recognized that yes, they are going against the institutional tide, as it were.
The problem with the LDS church is that it is not true and any type of apologetic will not change that fact. It is based on a Christian myth that was one-up’ed by Joseph Smith. So, the Mormon apologists cannot deal with where the debate is now – that whereas Jesus may have existed, Christianity is an incredible exaggeration of his life – like the “Life of Brian” tried to show.
@15 I agree that apologists can’t prove the church is true. This is where “pastoral apologetics” come in — they say that whether or not the church’s claims are true isn’t the right question. They claim that the right question to ask is whether the church is still good/worthwhile (even if it’s not “true”).
The main problem with this approach, IMHO, is that the answer to the second question is also “No.”
That said, I get that there are plenty of reasons why people would want to stick with the CoJCoL-dS (as non-traditional believers) and try to turn it into a kinder, gentler institution (re: @13). And I actually don’t really even care if the pastoral apologists want to believe that they’re not going against the institutional tide — except that it bugs me when they claim the critics are the ones misrepresenting the CoJCoL-dS’s character.
Insisting that the CoJCoL-dS is already wonderful will not help make it so — quite the opposite — as Andrew suggests @14.
Plus, to clarify my comment @12, it just annoys me in general when people invent self-serving theories about the motivations behind other people’s world views. (And I know that my fellow atheists are often guilty of this error — dismissing believers as stupid or brainwashed or whatever.) I don’t think such dismissals are helpful for understanding other people’s points of view.
This drives me crazy too. Of course people can see that there are more ways of being Mormon than believing it’s the only true church.
But given that we’re all taught that the proper way to be a Mormon–or, for that matter, a righteous, godly person–is to believe and publicly testify that the cojcolds is the only true and living church on the face of the earth, it’s not unreasonable for people to decide that it’s not worth the effort to stay in the church and pay tithing and go to the temple while going off script in one’s belief.
Furthermore, because, again we’re all taught that the proper way to be a Mormon–or, for that matter, a righteous, godly person–is to believe and publicly testify that the cojcolds is the only true and living church on the face of the earth, people who advocate not actually believing that while still being active Mormons can be open the charges of duplicity and a lack of integrity.
I’m not saying active Mormons with non-traditional beliefs are necessarily duplicitous or lacking in integrity. It has to do with what they encourage others to do and how honest they are about the church’s faults and the harm it does, as Andrew suggests:
yeah. It would be nice to see pastoral apologists discussing explicitly the out & out harm the church does instead of always going on about all the good it does, as if that good necessarily outweighs the harm.
I definitely don’t think that the pastoral apologists are duplicitous — although this is definitely something I’ve seen people raise many, many times, and I haven’t heard a satisfactory answer…I mean, there was an entire podcast on Mormon Matters on being authentic within Mormonism, but…it just didn’t satisfy — because it seems to me, from online conversations with Seth Payne and Dan Wotherspoon, that the pastoral apologists have just a fundamentally different view of the church. I mean, it definitely seems that they speak about all the good the church does because they actually believe the good outweighs the harm. Even if I can get them to agree that there is bad stuff that happens, always, always, always, that’s people acting in small-mindedness rather than an institutional problem. Always, that people failing to be Mormon *enough* or failing to be Christian *enough* rather than the natural result of actual Mormon teachings.
I mean, it definitely seems we are living in two different worlds. It’s just surreal.
(to clarify, I note that you weren’t saying that you thought they were duplicitous. I should have had something like, “I agree that I definitely don’t think that the pastoral apologists are duplicitous”)
I’ve also been reading Andrew’s conversation with Seth Payne. I have to agree with this comment from Andrew:
As I read the exchange, I keep thinking that Seth might benefit from belonging to a group like Ordain Women’s supporters facebook page, which is replete with stories of people disciplined, often quite harshly, for daring to believe that women should get the priesthood.
I mean, did he not hear about Wear Pants to Church day? How its creator received DEATH THREATS for daring to suggest that women wear pants to sacrament meeting as a quiet way of expressing a desire for a more egalitarian church?
OK, I’m sure he would say that that was people violating the core christian values of kindness and compassion.
But they justified doing so by the claim that people who express a desire for a more egalitarian church aren’t good Mormons–because of course a good Mormon knows–as in “has a testimony” of the “truth” that the church is already egalitarian and doesn’t need reforming.
I mean, wtf? It really does take a lot of privilege not to take stuff like that into serious account.
I also agree with Andrew’s statement about the church being a place of trial. It was for me. And it is for many, many people as well.
Striking that he had to have that pointed out to him. Seems like someone working really hard to live by the core christian value of compassion for others and trying to figure out why some people become disaffected from the church would have figured out on his own.
As far as the church is concerned, I am, was, and always will be male. It’ll probably take them 120 years to catch up to modern thinking about transgender issues.
@22 Johnny Townsend wrote a story on a this subject and came to a similar conclusion.