Practical Apologetics: What’s Wrong With You?

How do you talk to an Ex-Mormon? Or a less-active Mormon who you bump into at church or a ward activity or the grocery store? Here are some examples of what *not* to say: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t your religious beliefs agree with mine anymore? What serious sin have you committed that explains your change in belief? This general problem is the topic of a post at Flunking Sainthood titled “An open letter to my Mormon family and friends.” The author of the post, an LDS author of some repute, has apparently been on the receiving end of these sorts of intrusive questions. Somehow, despite the best of intentions, Mormons sometimes end up being rude and nosy instead of friendly and supportive. Maybe we just need better conversational skills.

Okay, so try to converse about something not directly related to the Church, listen at least as much as you talk, don’t offer advice or judgment. But I think the problem goes deeper than just poorly chosen topics or phrases. The examples from the first paragraph, which are exaggerated for effect but not by much, reflect a mental attitude that is the deeper problem. It’s a mixture of religious hubris and hypocrisy, an overconfidence in the particulars of our own religious beliefs and a convenient forgetting of any doubts or heresies that we once held (or still do). This hubris and hypocrisy, or even a natural sense of defensiveness, are more likely to come out when chatting with someone who still has or once had ties to Mormonism than with a neighbor or co-worker who has nothing to do with the Church. My sense is that a little humility goes a long way toward the goal of being able to hold a sincerely friendly conversation with someone whose zeal for Mormonism has waned or who expressly rejects Mormon beliefs.

Let me quote just one paragraph from the letter, which suggested Mormons should be a little more aware of personal boundaries in such conversations. I hear the term “boundaries” thrown around a lot. It strikes me that they are essentially conversational boundaries.

I know that Mormonism has taught you that my life is your business, especially men who are used to patriarchy and “stewardship.” It’s not your business if I have a temple recommend, if I’m still wearing my garments, if I keep the Word of Wisdom, if my kid is going on a mission, if I had an affair, or if I had a problem with pornography. Don’t ask me those questions. Don’t ask my kids those questions. It’s not your business.

I’m not trying to overstate the problem — there is plenty of courtesy and kindness practiced in every Mormon ward and in most LDS families. But plainly we, as a community, could do better. Any other suggestions?

24 comments for “Practical Apologetics: What’s Wrong With You?

  1. A lot of people are certainly tactless. Before saying anything, it’s worth considering how the other person feels about it. However realistically most tactless people aren’t apt to change. At least from what I can see the same flaws and obliviousness that leads to tactlessness also tends to encourage a blindness to their being tactless.

    That said, I suspect this is more of a problem with people who live in Mormon only environments. Not that people in other environments aren’t also tactless. Just that engaging with more non-Mormons creates a bit more awareness.

    There is a larger question though about how common this is. Not that it matters to the person who experiences it. It sounds like in this case the person’s family tends to be doing it.

    I really liked that you framed this in terms of apologetics. Really the line between apologetics and missionary work is blurry at best. Yet part of doing missionary work is in understanding how people feel about what you’re saying. Yet at the same time that old statement “bold but not overbearing” fits. Being Canadian, I recall on my mission that I was perhaps a tad too polite doing missionary work. I distinctly recall a companion I was training who got quite upset at me. He felt I was being apologetic (in the sense of apologizing) because in trying to build on common ground he didn’t think I was standing up for my beliefs enough. I thought I was just being polite in that Canadian way.

    I raise this just to note that there are big cultural assumptions about what appropriate discourse ought be. While Canadians and Americans are frankly pretty similar, there are big differences. Even within communities there’s very big differences by family. We ought be aware of that. It makes communication hard though.

  2. Dave, I really appreciate your post. As the only active sibling in my family, this hits close to home. For me, not berating my siblings is thankfully not a struggle for me; however, the biggest problem is fighting the feeling that I can’t trust them anymore just as much as they feel they can’t trust members. They treat as imaginary something I find real and vital. It feels hollow to talk with them about spiritual or church struggles when they see your beliefs and efforts as some sort of expensive, soul-damaging cosplay.

    Some might ask how, then, do I ever have meaningful converations with non-members? My candid answer is that I really don’t talk much about spiritual struggles with non-member friends or at least don’t couch my issues in spiritual terms. To most people I work with, I’m politely agnostic unless explicitly asked (am I the only one?). Further with non-members, I rarely feel the contempt that I get from former members (I’m sure former members get this from members all the time as well).

    Not really sure what I’m trying to communicate here other than that I believe there has to be a lot of “live and let live” on both sides for this to work.

  3. I’m reflecting on the differences between conversations I have about religion, with Mormon friends as compared to Catholic friends. With Catholic friends there is always a Me separate from the Church, on all sides, every side. With Mormon friends it is very common that some one or more in the conversation takes an “I am the Church” position. That too-close identification, even if just rhetorical, creates many of the problems identified. It’s quite a different conversation.

  4. The big issue is that we do want to offer the gospel to people. Figuring out how to do that in a respectful way can be tricky. Almost assuredly most people don’t want to hear, and will be annoyed when you offer. It’s a difficult balancing point.

    Where I’d differ somewhat as I alluded in my earlier comment is that I think the comfort zone for many people is saying nothing. Getting out of that comfort zone but being respectful is tricky. Not just to people who’ve left but also to non-members we may encounter. While I disagree on some points, overall I think the issues raised in Mette Harrison’s original post are important to at minimum consider.

  5. Re “we do want to offer the gospel to people” —
    It seems to me that for Mette Harrison and people like her (“I’m still active in the Church, but nontraditional in my beliefs.”) it would be a boon to everyone if we all accepted some version of been-there-done-that. For someone who really has been there and done that, and is now nontraditional in her beliefs, I don’t think there is a balancing point for offering the gospel. Every “offering the gospel” approach I can imagine comes across as a preachy harangue. I hear an argument that a simple and personal testimony could be OK, and I see Mette allowing for personal experience (with a caveat: “However, I may not see “miraculous events” in the same light that you do. It would be nice for you to acknowledge that—and maybe even be able to laugh about it together.”). But I suspect that there will always be a sufficiently obvious subtext that even a personal testimony will come across as pressure to change.

  6. Perhaps it’s how we each view “testimony” and “spritual.” Personally < this is how sprirituality, as personal. That means my spirituality and your spirituality are necessarily different. We have some shared experiences, at least culturally, but we did not each perceive them in the same way. Maybe similarly, but not the same.

    Something from Kalil Gibran, a Ba'hai writer, impressed me, theconcept of trees growing in proximity, but each growing in different directions so as not to let the other crowd out the sun.

  7. Of course, I also think of a song by one of my personally favorite musical groups (from Canada), Rush. The song is “Entre Nous,” and my favorite stanza reads “leave room for you and I to grow.”

  8. One of our strengths is manifest as weakness in this matter.

    Let me illustrate with a story. Many years ago we, as a young married couple arrived at my first military assignment after basic training, and my housing was mucked up. We were told to check into a cheap motel for a couple of weeks and put our few household goods into storage and they would pay for it. Somehow I didn’t believe them but we had little choice. I went to church the next day and met a guy who had a missionary companion from Idaho who knew my Aunt Ethel. She was a legendary 400 pound school teacher welding the real board of education; a picket off a fence and she used it. I mentioned her in some comment in class. Based on a 5 minute conversation after church of mostly me whining about my housing, this guy in the ward gave me the keys to his house. He was leaving on vacation that afternoon for 3 weeks.The relief society president who had been assigned to watch the house was delighted and asked us to babysit her 7 rowdy children for 3 hours that turned into 6 hours that evening. We were all in the military so if we pulled any stunts it would be difficult to hide. But still, we were total strangers, outside of our obvious familiarity with church culture; we had not even been verified as actual members in good standing.

    The LDS people are like a mega-tribe. It might be from the partially shared pioneer experience, the united orders, the missionary service, the endless moving committee assignments and other experiences. The LDS religion is a set of beliefs that is only partially associated with the tribe, both conceptually and historically. When someone ceases believing significant portions of the religion then it sets up a conundrum within the tribe. Are they in or out of the tribe? Can they be reclaimed or do they become a danger, a wolf in a sheepskin? The critics are right, we do have many boundary problems. And more boundary solutions.

    The other problem is Mormon exclusivity and the central belief of being led by prophets. We actually believe we are right (mostly) and have the only authentic authority from God. All others might have glimpses of moonlight but we are blessed with the bright sunlight from God. We celebrate just about any conversion into our faith, regardless of the personal price, as of God. Yet we find it impossible to believe that God would give even one of our own a personal revelation to join another faith. The moral and ethical non-affiliated person seems to be a logical impossibility.This sets up a subconscious superiority complex that is difficult to mask even with the best intentions.

    To resolve this dilemma at its roots we are going to have to collectively admit that the faiths in other churches are just as authentic and favorable as ours in God’s sight and we are going to have to disband the tribe. I don’t think we really want to do that. So we are stuck trying to be nice and necessarily artificial and except for those with superb social skills, it comes off as phony or worse.

  9. @Christiankimball:

    Chirstian said: ” With Catholic friends there is always a Me separate from the Church… With Mormon friends it is very common that some one…takes an “I am the Church” position.”

    Your comments caused me some interesting reflection. I don’t really understand what I am thinking here, but I will throw this out, as you guys are better thinker than I am, and see what, if anything, comes of it.

    Through some of my own marriage struggles, one of the more interesting and challenging (and maybe useful) concepts I have come across is Dr. Schnarch’s concepts of “differentiation” and “emotional fusion”. Basically, the concepts reflect how well or poorly a spouse is able to stand on their own two emotional feet without losing their emotional equilibrium when their spouse does or does not say or do something. Relationship problems come when we are too “emotionally fused” — rely too much on a “reflected sense of self” — instead of being able to hold onto our own differentiated sense of self.

    How might this apply to our relationship to the Church (whether the Church is “other people we attend worship service with” or the Church as institution or the Church as a series of doctrines and beliefs)? How much of Elder Ballard’s inoculation is learning to stand on our own two emotional/spiritual feet rather than relying on a reflected sense of spiritual self? How many people who “over-react” to previously unknown (to them) Church history details and practices are over-reacting because they are too “emotionally fused” to the Church? How many of those who faithfully absorb those questions and issues are able to absorb them because they can separate and differntiate their personal faith from the institution’s history?

  10. If we have experiences and received information, which lead us to believe; and we see someone who we thought had had similar experiences, and received the same information, but the outcome is different, it creates a mystery. And we would like the mystery solved. So a quick way to solve the mystery is to ask “What’s the delta between you and me?” We ask, because we want to understand.
    It’s difficult to understand without the question of the delta being answered.

  11. I’m fascinated by this, as I think it points out a tragic tradeoff that is insufficiently acknowledged (although Mike, above, gestures toward it). Seems like there’s a philosophical component (a pretty straightforward invocation of Rorty’s ironism) and an etiquette question. I wonder whether the two posts have merged the two components in a potentially confusing way. Is it true that in addition to learning better etiquette a believer within a robust community must abandon hope of a spiritual life beyond Rorty’s rather hypochromatic worldview? If etiquette is the relevant standard (again, a debt seems due to Rorty here), what is the proper etiquette for public shaming of well-intentioned commoners as hubristic deviants?

    I don’t probe, probably because I’m constitutionally averse to it. I’m not an ironist, even as I tend to emphasize more what I don’t know than what I do know. But I recognize that the kind of etiquette failures repudiated in the two posts is almost certainly statistically more likely in a coherent community, the community that I see gathering actually and usefully at times of stress and tragedy. I am skeptical that browbeating the non-ironists within that community will do much at all to healthfully increase the strength and capacity of that community to come together in times of tragedy.

    On a side note, Chris, I think you’re probably describing liberal American Catholics, who, not surprisingly, aren’t a lot like either conservative Mormons or conservative (and especially non-American) Catholics. I’m not persuaded that the best path forward for Mormonism bodily is that it approximate liberal American Catholicism, as much as I admire and enjoy that latter tradition.

  12. @smb: The side note brings me back to agree that certainly I’m talking with American Catholics, and I’m confident that the Catholics I know best are liberal within that tradition. However, my direct experience and indirect (mostly reading) suggests that the sex abuse cases (and to a lesser degree the Catholic hard line on homosexuality) have forced a separation for many North American and North European Catholics (probably less so for Latin American and African, and no read on Asia), so that differentiating Me vs Church is now a commonplace in my circles, liberal and conservative. But my “suggests that” is only marginally better than anecdotal.

    As for best path forward for Mormonism, that of course depends on the metric but in the end I’m not inclined to debate ‘best’. I do think differentiation is both necessary and inevitable, and that there will be a loss (but not collapse) in the strength and capacity of community.

  13. Mike, while I agree with a big part of the thrust of your comments I can’t quite follow all the way. I’m completely fine with God leading people temporarily out of the Church simply because they’re not ready for it for some reason. (Perhaps dealing with other members being one of them) I still think it’s true and it is the only way.

    The reason I brought up what I did is because, as you note, we fundamentally don’t want to say any path will do. We might be open to people following different paths as they develop. Yet eventually some things have to be accepted either in this life or the next. The reasons why someone might not accept them may be complex. I do agree that sincerity might not come off that way to some. And figuring out when to share can be tricky – heaven knows I probably err on the side of not sharing enough. But if we truly believe the gospel is true and not merely “useful” in some fashion we can’t explain and can’t share then I think a lot follows from that.

  14. I think some L.D.S. have the mindset “We are not sent forth to be taught but to teach” which comes from Doctrine and Covenants, section 43. With that mindset, it’s easy to seem condescending.

  15. I think that’s right. Although ideally we should be learning from the other person even as we teach and share what we have. I almost always do. And teaching without love can certainly be little more than badgering.

  16. Clark:

    thank you for your considerate response. Your position is perfectly rational and thoroughly well-thought out. When you say “the gospel (or the church-less clear) is true,” what does that mean? Is it one of many useful paths in a cosmopolitan array of possibilities scattered across a million years of human experience? Is the meaning clear and consistent even within the boundaries of various streams of thought well within the conventional LDS faith? Or is it at some level the one and only path, “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth (DC1:30)? Most of DC:1 proclaims this unmistakably. And aside from questions of etiquette and precision (after the manner of smb I conclude that you stand with DC:1.

    Let us consider the experience of young Joseph Smith going into the grove and having the first vision. The religious authorities of his day rejected his experience which if real he could not deny. Where did that leave him? He could quietly admit he was a fraud. Or he could not deny what he knew by experience and he knew God knew this actually happened. Subsequently Joseph Smith rejected their authority over him and their one true set of kindred paths for him.


    Let us further consider the hypothetical experience of say, an obscure contemporary young woman of around age 20 who has been raised in the LDS faith and kept the commandments better than most. She is firmly committed and partially bored and occasionally overwhelmed. And while she is visiting distant relatives in the Deep South she attends a evangelical revival out in the piney woods with her cousin. And she feels something then more powerful and more joyous than anything else before in her entire life.

    She has been to LDS girls camp and cried while bearing her testimony and she has read the Book of Mormon and prayed and felt good about it. But out there in the woods on that hot humid summer night, she feels like Jesus Christ Himself has come to her and forgiven her of her sins and personally loves her in ways she could scarcely imagine before and will walk beside her forever. He has claimed her as His own, one of His beloved sheep. This experience is life changing and she will never be the same again. Before she did what she knew was right out of an external sense of duty; now she will feel internally compelled to do it out of a sense of love.

    She tries to create a syncretic combination of her traditional Mormon faith including her community and family mixed in with this new and throbbing evangelicalism that is quite aside from the structure of the LDS church. Sometimes it can be interwoven. And over a few years she finds that it too often doesn’t work. The core experience out in the piney woods can never be shared with Mormon friends and they believe it was credible. She is constantly faced with the dilemma; follow what the prophet (via the church handbook or bishop, etc.) says or do what the Spirit of Christ is telling me in my heart to do. It can be as simple as which song to lead the children to sing in primary, “follow the prophet” or “come follow me.” Or it can be much more complex. She doesn’t want to set up a false dichotomy but it seems inevitable. And those within her social circle at church began to sense she is not 100% on board. And so the story continues as you wish, (not usually ending as the version to be published in the Ensign ends).


    We are anxious to tell the world the story of the restoration beginning with the visionary experiences of Joseph Smith and for it to be the one and only true and living gospel message. We ignore the visionary experiences of lets say George Fox who started the Quaker faith a couple of centuries before Joseph Smith and hundreds of others like him and when forced, we consider them as somehow less credible, even fradulent. This, ironically, in spite of the historical evidence that some aspects of the restoration by Joseph Smith were admittedly dubious and the seemingly floundering of the progress of the LDS church in our day.

    I personally think that Joseph Smith did encounter deity in some profound way that deeply moved my ancestors on every line (19 of 32 fifth g-grand parents lived in Nauvoo) and there is much strength, goodness and power in the LDS faith. I can faintly hear the chorus of their voices calling out to me from the grave and the worlds beyond it. I also think Joseph Smith was far more deeply flawed than most of my LDS friends are willing to admit, casting clouds of doubt over much of his work. And I don’t know where the boundary between these thoughts is located.

    I want there to be a one and only true path and I want it to be the one I was taught as a child. I once believed this. Even though many aspects of that path have not worked for me. But at the same time it would be irrational and dishonest for me to ignore the spiritual experiences of some of those close to me that have lead them in another direction, on out of the LDS church. And they seem to be happier and better functioning than when active in the LDS church. To not honor their faith journey is petty. And I will not defend the obviously unrighteous (to me) aspects and developments in our history and church even in the company of non-LDS critical friends. Which puts me uncomfortably both in and out of the LDS tribal circle, depending on what has come out of my mouth in the previous 30 minutes and the selective acuity of other people’s memory and their forgiveness/compassion for me.

    Bill Clinton struggled with the meaning of the word “is.” I struggle with the meaning of the word “we.”

  17. Mike, each person is responsible for their own experiences and interpreting them. As we act on our experiences we have to take up the risk associated with that act. Indeed I’d say that element of risk is important. To your hypothetical experience I can but say they have to pray and decide for themselves. I can only speak from my own experiences.

    Of course we dismiss other peoples experiences in preference to our own as we have no other choice. How can we tell if someone else really had the experience or interpreted it correctly? Certainly we can’t simply dismiss out of hand people who disagree with us. Yet if it is grounded in private experience I have no real choice but to ultimately follow my own experience. What else could I do?

    I have confidence that if there is a real God and if we continue to inquire in a sincere and devout way that God will lead us. If he for unknown reasons leads a person for a period down a different lane, who am I to criticize him? I can’t speak to his purposes for an other person if they aren’t self-evident. And, for all I know, they completely misinterpreted the experiences in question and then stopped inquiring. It’s that element of continual inquiry that’s so important. And I’d be the first to admit that many LDS members themselves get into a comfort zone and stop inquiring. I think the language we usually use to describe that is that they’re losing their living testimony in preference for the memory of a testimony. That’ll keep people for quite a while but God has a way of testing us so we have to turn to him. Many people who don’t have a living testimony continually nourished by continuing revelation (see Alma 32:38) then typically one will fall away or in some cases will return to inquiring sincerely by asking God and enlivening their testimony.

  18. “How can we tell if someone else really had the experience or interpreted it correctly? ”

    “By their fruits ye shall know them.” What is the long term result? Are they better people? More compassionate, unselfish, doing good for others? Better university football team? (Just kidding on the last one).

    I appreciate the thoughts by Bro. Clark Goble above in his 11:55 comment. I think he gets to the heart of the matter. I think that if more people understood what Bro. Goble wrote, the original question of this thread would not need further discussion. Especially if we were willing to accept it on a level playing field with other religions; open to the idea that our LDS confirmatory experiences may have been completely misinterpreted and continual inquiry is to be preferred, allowing the Lord to lead us further in or even out of the LDS faith if that is where He leads us.

    But almost every LDS testimony meeting I have ever attended mocks these ideas, as does most of the correlated material, indirectly at least. Try cracking open this door in a typical Sunday school class and watch it get slammed right back in your face. We are all for everyone else in other religions to inquire further (about us) but heaven forbid we do it ourselves about anyone else. That will only lead to trouble. I just don’t see this philosophy in the thoughts and actions of the numerous closed-minded BYU graduates who flow through our ward. Quite the opposite in fact.

    I saw a show about human paleoarcheology and can’t forget a statement made there: “The bones don’t lie.” Different scientists can have different experiences looking at them and forming conflicting opinions based on who and how they were trained and their own cerebral machinations. But at the end of the day the scientific opinions have to square with the reproducible observations of the bones. New bones are always being found and raise new questions. But they don’t change the original bones. New opinions must be as consistent with all the bones as possible. And it is never absolute and agreement is seldom reached on many questions.

    So what are the “bones” of our faith?

    Certainly more than spiritual experiences, or not? They can not be critically compared or revisited. The Protestants say the inerrant Scripture is the bones of the gospel. Even if they can agree on the words in the Bible they will never come to one faith based on the biblical text, it is too ambiguous and confusing on too many important points.The Catholics rely on their traditions and their Popes and we have our Prophets. But unlike the bones, even the best of inspired authority figures do lie, intentionally and inadvertently.

    Perhaps there are no “bones” in matters exclusively of faith. If so then we need to clarify what we mean when we teach our children (before they know how to use a toilet) to chant over the pulpit ” I know the church is true.” How we treat others outside of our tribe becomes not just a matter of politeness and tact. We don’t really know what we say we do and we have been out of line too many times to count in our interactions with others and we need a sea change in our collective attitude.

    But we like being in the tribe and can’t give up our addiction to exclusivity and certainty. And because continual inquiry is too much work, especially when we have been given so much other busy work to do in our elaborate callings. To hell with others not in the tribe. Gently, of course.

    Personally, continual inquiry and willingness to be lead by the Lord has taken me deep into a jungle of confusion and I only hope the Lord can get me out of it eventually, probably not in this life. I do tend to wander off on my own and stray from Him even further into the mire, which is to be expected; I am not perfect.

  19. Mike, you write like someone I know. (But more likely a type than an individual.)

    There are other interesting and dramatic things going on, but I did think to drop in with my “view of the landscape”:

    It seems to me that we’ve had a couple of generations (25 to 50 years) where the prevailing Mormon social contract is one of orthopraxy. Do the right things, say the right things, and we’ll get along, somewhat independent of what you really believe so long as you’re not too loud about it.

    I think the orthopraxy model is/has/is-in-the-process-of change. And change is coming from both ends of the spectrum. From the conservative wing, orthopraxy is not enough. Get with the program. Announce full-throated loyalty. Espouse historicity. Take the leaders’ side in all things. And from the liberal/progressive side (which I think is represented by Mette Harrison, and I would put myself in this camp) we’re moving to a “take me as I am” position. I’m going to show up. I’m not going to say the right things or drink the right drinks. AND I’m going to claim a place in the community. (Another example may be Sunstone this year–although I wasn’t there and don’t know what was actually said–using a “Many Ways to Mormon” and encouraging “I am an [adjective] Mormon.”)

    So there’s a tension, we’re living it, and how does it resolve? There are two obvious outcomes to consider. The wheat and tares vision where the tares are winnowed out in the present. And the wheat and tares version where they grow together and God does the winnowing, as needed, later and out of our terrestrial sight. The latter requires some form of differentiation, where “Mormon” no longer connotes one way to be, live, speak, commune. That’s what I’m betting on.

  20. Mike not quite sure why you think what I said is at odds with what’s typically taught in Sunday School or Sacrament. I certainly don’t see it that way.

    Certainly there are people with what I’d term faux testimonies. Although I’m skeptical I can know who they are typically. i.e. I’d be pretty hesitant about judging. Yet at the same time those with testimonies think they are right and unsurprisingly think they know. That’s the point of testimony meeting – to testify of what you know in hopes that the spirit will confirm such testimonies to those listening.

    Christian I think you’re right about not caring what you believe so long as you aren’t too loud in proclaiming it. Although I think that goes back to the days of Joseph. Not sure what you mean by the “conservative wing” (or if you’d put me in it even though I tend to see myself as conservative theologically). If those who are theologically liberal indeed are, as you suggest, moving to a “take me as I am” that’s deeply saddening. I say that since fundamentally the gospel is a gospel of repentance. The “take me as I am” seems at odds with that. That’s not to say we aren’t all sinners needing the atonement of Jesus. But the attitude of “take me as I am” seems to simultaneously entail a sense that there is no need of change.

    Of course I suspect what you mean is that we should be more accepting of others who don’t fit the social norms of the community. And in that I agree. I’ve always been frustrated for instance of how people will sometimes unconsciously act when they smell someone smokey or not dressed appropriately. I think in part in Utah that’s just due to not typically having many investigators at Church. But I think you get at an issue of whether there should be norms at all. I’m not sure we could or should get rid of such norms.

  21. Hmm. Can I jump in and join you for a second?

    Do I have this straight? The liberal side (Christian’s) posits a flawed (but perhaps correctable) amoral norm, and a perfectible/perfectly acceptable individual. The conservative side (Clark’s) posits a flawed (but perhaps correctable) individual, and a perfectible/perfectly acceptable moral norm.

    I’m sorry to get pedantic, but it looks to me like the main source of the conflict is in the lack of logical symmetry. It’s close, but not perfect. Liberals are rightly concerned about the abuse of authority that wells up around the tribal protection of social rules, because said rules appear to them to be amoral norms. Conservatives are more concerned with the flagrance of the violations of social rules, because said rules appear to them to be moral norms.

    (Both sides have gone rather far afield of the individual. Once you get into norms, you are eo ipso talking about the collective, or at best the individual in the collective. But not the individual.)

    Funnily enough, everyone who is IN the discussion around Mormon norms wants there to be some change of approach. Even the conservatives. It’s the designated location or area for where that discussion happens that we lack. The problem facing Mette (in the original post) is not just the pure and simple fact that the discussion is really very difficult, especially for those who don’t like discussion. Of course it is.

    Isn’t her problem really a location problem, or perhaps an event problem, rather than a logical problem or an orthopractical problem or even a people problem?

    What I’m getting at is, where is the physical location where we can change our collective norms, or at least talk about changing them? Where and when do we get to talk, as a group and a tribe, about changing some norms, or preserving certain moral norms? Because right now the sit-down-and-shut-up-about-it-non-dicussioners seem to be carrying the field — to everyone’s detriment, really.

    Hypothesis: Shouldn’t these discussions be happening in the stake? Or maybe the ward? I think the family unit is a little too uncomfortably close. I’m afraid the online world is rather more so. But for the love of all things democratic, let’s not wait until General Conference for our Priesthood Leadership to make the changes for us. Didn’t somebody once say we people ought to govern ourselves? I mean, does anyone inside the church and committed to staying in the boat really think we still don’t grok the basic correct principles yet?

    Does that make any sense to anybody?

  22. Feeling a small amount of pain. I’m somewhere on the journey and gravitating towards the outer fringes of the tribe. Seriously considering asking to be released from a demanding calling. Fascinated by millenials in my close family (including a child) who have pretty much rejected the historical narrative and are finding/creating their own paths.

  23. Clark:

    “Mike, not quite sure why you think what I said is at odds with what’s typically taught in Sunday School or Sacrament. I certainly don’t see it that way.”

    Different wards and classes. I taught gospel doctrine, 7 years for one stretch and a few times otherwise. I was much more cautious and less radical than I can ever be on line. But I wanted to at least make people think about 10% of the time and I toed the line the rest of the time. I never assumed a voice of authority, I went out of my way to say: this might be just some crazy idea but what do you think? The bishop had a constant stream of complaints which he didn’t want to deal with. (He didn’t like Sunday school in general and was holding out for a 2 hour block to be introduced).

    Few people would come and talk to me personally even though that is the way forward. Even those who I considered good friends. I would have loved to fix them a nice Dutch oven dinner on Sunday afternoon and pull up a comfortable chair in the shade on my deck and let the kids run around in the yard while we would have an honest, respectful discussion. But that seldom happened, maybe twice or thrice.

    That was over 10 years ago and the next bishop put me under the band as did the next. “You don’t disturb me but you disturb too many other people.” A few weeks ago we had speakers in sacrament meeting from the stake who introduced this new method of teaching Sunday school that sounds about like what I was trying to do. I went to the ex-bishop who put me under the band and volunteered with a smile to teach again and he dissembled and just got out of the conversation as quickly as possible. He didn’t stand by his original decision.

    It might not be what you say but how you say it. And therein lies the fault in me, it is one of tact and verbal skill. But that is unfair because those who champion the cause of orthodoxy are too often anything but nice and tactful about it. And hence the problem discussing anything with an ex-Mormon; they have usually suffered a storm of rudeness and arrogance and judgmentalism already.

    There does seem to be a lack of repentance on all sides. How does one repent from being put under the band for teaching uncorrelated material? Recognition that is is wrong seems to be the first step, but what if it appears (to me) to not be wrong? Then what?

    Location is crucial. But the ram rods are not going to surrender the church building easily. These conversations will not happen in the church building until those in authority drive them. And they are highly selected, not for visionary free-thinking tendencies, but for their conformity and orthodoxy. For the time, the internet is driving these discussions.

    Fascinating thoughts otherwise. (Also Christiankimball’s thoughts are fascination).

    Chet writes: “Fascinated by millenials in my close family (including a child) who have pretty much rejected the historical narrative and are finding/creating their own paths.” Is activity in the church sustainable with this approach? My experience would indicate, not likely. But it is a new generation and a new day. I wish them the best. And those in their wards.

  24. I’m way behind on posts so I’m going to work on those rather than comment too much.

    Mike, I agree those that are rude or mean to others might not get noticed by the “orthodox” if they aren’t mean or rude to them. That said I think in most wards there are cliques that often line up with certain doctrinal views. I’ve seen wards where it was what I’d term unorthodox who led such cliques. And of course there are some where different views rule. Sometimes they are tied to impatience with those outside of normal behavior (special needs, dislike of activities the rest like, etc.) A common feature is that cliques, left unchecked, start to do boundary policing the way any identity group does. (Not to go all into academic phrasing for this but I think it’s helpful to understand this is an all too human failing independent of it being tied to particular beliefs)

    To your particular case I just can’t speak since I didn’t hear you. Maybe I’d have agreed. I tend to tailor my lessons strongly to my audience but feel that lessons at church should be oriented around a call to repentance of some sort. I’ve never heard a complaint but maybe there have been of some sort. Although I try to avoid that by finding examples from my own life where I’ve fallen down in the topic I’m calling for repentance on. That said, I think tone and manner matters a great deal if we’re trying to motivate and instruct. Not that I’ve always been good at that – especially online.

    I’m not quite sure what you mean about the “church building.” There’s a lot more diversity among wards than I think most people want to acknowledge.

    Chet, I hope you stay. All I can say is that I don’t think most people care what others believe so long as they serve together and pray. I’m a firm believer that if we can get people inquiring and praying that God will lead them to the truth. Even if I disagree with their beliefs, I’m all about serving them and keeping them coming. Eventually (from my perspective) God will lead them to correct beliefs but that’s not the prime focus. The relationship with God is.

    Doodle, I don’t think I’m saying that. Indeed I think I argued against that. I was explicit that I think people worry about norms too much. Things like don’t come to church smelling of smoke. (As an aside I’ve never smoked in my life, but I once went to a concert and wore the same leather coat to church the next day. It smelled of smoke and it was interesting seeing the reaction since most didn’t know me well in that ward.) My point is more that norms just aren’t inherently bad and often it’s not a problem to just follow a norm you think is stupid. To draw an exaggerated example wearing a white shirt and nice clothes is a norm. In many ways it’s an arbitrary norm picked largely because it is a norm associated with respect. But I’m being ridiculous if I start wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt to church each Sunday.

    My point isn’t that norms are moral but rather it’s just silly and mean to intentionally flaunt them just because you don’t like them. You’re intentionally creating opportunities for miscommunication. It’s like arbitrarily redefining a few words and speaking with your own meaning. Now if you have a good reason that’s different. But blaming others because you flount norms seems to be problematic.

    And I say that having gone to church in dirty jeans and a tshirt before simply because getting home in time from church from camping took too long. Sitting in the foyer taking the sacrament in dirty jeans seemed better than missing it.

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