I swore off writing manifestos 20 years ago as bad business with no profit in it. Why would I sign this one?
I could have begged off. I’m not much of a radical, and I don’t think orthodoxy is a useful category for describing Latter-day Saints. Then again, I’m terrible at coming up with catchy titles, and I probably couldn’t have come up with anything better if it were up to me.
Or I could have withheld my signature on the grounds that secularism-versus-fundamentalism isn’t the precise model I would use to describe the perils on every side, but I sketched out my own view for the authors and they didn’t object.
On the other hand, I like Nathaniel’s posts here at T&S quite a bit. They’re interesting and thoughtful. Most of the time when we write for an online audience, we’re performing solo, with maybe a slow clap or two among the jeers, but genuine support is hard to come by. I’ve learned not to expect any, but I try to offer it when I can, and that would be grounds enough to sign.
I’m also generally in favor of attempts at intellectual renewal. While I don’t think I’ve interacted directly with Jeffrey Thayne before, I have to give J. Max Wilson credit for recognizing years before I did that that world of Mormon blogging was often gross, and it’s gone through several downhill slides since then. We could stand for a reboot. Of course there are examples of faithful inquiry somewhere, but the Mormon discourse in my vicinity needs to have the barnacles scraped off its hull. Also, it seems to have hit a good-sized iceberg a ways back.
But mainly I added my name to the list of signatories because I fundamentally agree with the authors. One of the rare pleasures of being a failed academic is that I can say and write what I really think without trying to please any real or imaginary hiring, promotion or publication committee, and blogging has gotten me in the habit of signing my name to ideas I’m prepared to stand by. We do need creative thinking about what it means to be a member of the church today, but without reflexive, self-centered complaining about the apostles. We do need creative thinking about doctrine that isn’t based on agonistic rejection of basic principles. The church’s official statements of the last 25 years, on the family and Jesus and the Restoration, are useful and effective guides for staking out a big tent.
The only choice available to me was to sign my name or not. There was no way to know who else would sign, or who would decline. Now that I’ve seen the list of signatories…I still don’t recognize most of them. I see some co-bloggers and a few other familiar names, a few people I agree with on some issues and disagree with on others, but my signature was and is essentially about agreeing with basic principles and not about picking a side. The list of signatories was curated, and that is a good thing, as an open list offers too many opportunities for mischief; we live in the age of Boaty McBoatface. I’m sorry if this meant you would have liked to sign but didn’t get a chance. I hope you won’t let that affect what you think of the basic principles at stake, however it may influence how you feel about the project itself (which it might; my reaction when I found out about Latter-day Saint Scholars Testify was something like the offspring of Pride and Envy, with Phrarisaism as its nursemaid throughout an extended infancy).
People who disagree with the substance of the church’s recent statements will likely find little appeal in radical orthodoxy, but some heated criticism has focused instead on how it might provide covert aid to the deplorable. I have no idea if it actually does so, and I don’t have the luxury of taking that into consideration. There are both politically active progressives and bedrock conservatives among the members of my immediate family and the people I’m close to in my ward, and I’m not going to shun any of them. In all cases, I worry about ideas they may be importing from their political convictions into their faith and the forces pulling them away from the church. In every case, the position from which I minister to them is triangulated by faith in Jesus Christ, the reality of the Restoration, and the apostles’ guidance of the church through inspiration and revelation.
One of the few things of substance we can accomplish online is to decide what it is we stand for and will sign our names to. If radical orthodoxy isn’t your thing, you might want to go through the exercise of trying to formulate what it is you do believe, and what you will sign your name to in public, even if it turns out that people you deplore agree with you, or if your name is the only one on the list of signatories.