Radical Orthodoxy

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.

33 comments for “Radical Orthodoxy

  1. Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jonathan. I wasn’t asked to sign the Manifesto, and wouldn’t have signed it if asked (I’m with you all when it comes to truth, humility, integrity, seeking, faith, and charity, but can’t agree with the way the principles of fidelity, revelation, and hope were expressed), but your reference to Mormon Scholars Testify (and yes, my use of the original name is, I’ve realized in the very moment of writing this, a small manifestation of the areas of dissent I just listed) gives me food for thought.

    That project is a decade old; it was mostly assembled in 2010-2011, I believe. The worlds through which our church community operates (political, moral, and most of all technological) have changed a great deal in that time. While those changes do not in any way require a change in beliefs, I think, they do obviously change the context in which words are to be chosen to articulate those beliefs–and of course as times and contexts change, so do the believers themselves, meaning that sometimes more than just articulations shift. Going back to my own contribution to that project, I can see a lot of ways in which I would write things differently today. (Most importantly, I sincerely hope I could find it in myself to dial back the hideously and pretentiously wordy character of what I wrote then, though I fear I might actually just make it worse.) But would the substance of what I wrote be different? I’m not sure.

    It does strike me, however, that part of the substance of my own testimony is directly relevant to what you write here, and relevant to at least one aspect of our current political/moral/technological moment. In that essay, I describe (at much too great a length) my failed search for a revelation of propositional knowledge that I could actually be epistemologically confident of, and my appreciation for the naive gift of belief that I did have instead. I also recognized that such a belief is unavoidably “tied up with identity and attachment”; that it cannot be articulated separate from the “affective relationships” I have within my (historically contingent) communities. Your claim that “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,” therefore really speaks to me here–though I wonder if (and if so, how) that final clause of yours operates equally across different circumstances. What does shunning mean, anyway, and shunning from what, and how?

    As your own RO co-signer Dan Ellsworth wrote at By Common Consent, drawing lines of exclusion can be a part of how one productively engages with making sense of one’s own faith commitments. In which case, is it really the case that, when confronted with the potentially appalling implications of the beliefs of some of those the manifesto arguably associates you with, that you “don’t have the luxury of taking that into consideration”? Maybe, to the contrary, constantly considering such things is incumbent upon all of thus, all the time? Or at least so it seems to me. I recently tried to make sense of why civic friendship seems so hard for so many of us these days; one of my conclusions is that we have all, for many different reasons, found many of our basic assumptions about the supposedly shared bases of our relationships even with people we disagree with fundamentally challenged, and that leads us to feel attacked. When confronted by what we can easily experience as an attack on something fundamental, why not draw lines (or even, as I wrote, start overturning the tables of the money changers)? And since that’s what we all seem to be in a position of doing, why is it wrong to inquire how those engaged in one sort of line-drawing, or shunning, or table-overturning, or manifesto-issuing, or whatever, are or aren’t doing so within their own defined community as well?

    It would probably be much easier, psychologically speaking, to just be Luther here: “Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders.” But figuring out how to make sense of a radical determination of one’s own solitary position vis-a-vis God’s revelations while nonetheless living, inextricably, in society with others is hard–or at least it is for me, lacking as I do a confident propositional insight into whatever God would consider orthodox belief. As someone whose faith is very much a product of my affective engagements with others, I feel as though I cannot help but be constantly attentive to whom I engage with, and how, and why. I’m glad to be able to call some of those who have taken a stand with the RO manifesto, like yourself, friends; I hope I can be forgiven to wondering if, and to what extent, those who sign the RO can say to themselves the same.

  2. “Radical orthodoxy is not a faction, nor a label intended to set forth boundaries for any particular group or organization.” — Then why have people sign it?

  3. “Radical orthodoxy cultivates humility and a recognition that far less is certain about many doctrinal matters than we often presume.”

    I loved this particular statement. One of my deep concerns has been that a host of interpretations and speculations – introduced by well-meaning people in an attempt to fill in perceived gaps in the Gospel – has come to acquire a status that very nearly equals that of Scripture, only with no process of common consent.

    With all due respect for inspiration and even revelation, there is a reason we have a process for accepting the word as canonical, and anything that is outside of that process should not be given the same level of certainty. (And even the canonical works have the “as far as translated correctly” disclaimer attached to them, of course.) As a wise man once said, when we receive a “new flood of intelligence and light”, it “erases . . . all the views and all the thoughts of the past.” That should be caution enough against taking brother so-and-so’s classical doctrinal commentary as near-scripture.

    I love the image of the barnacles, which I think applies just as much to the Gospel itself as to the discourse surrounding it. I think we would be rewarded by scraping off some of the encrusted barnacles of well-meaning interpretations and speculations, and taking a fresh look at the old ship of the Gospel. I’ve been particularly happy with the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum, which has gone a long way toward replacing familiar answers with thought-provoking questions.

  4. RAF: “I hope I can be forgiven to wondering if, and to what extent, those who sign the RO can say to themselves the same.”

    You could always try asking them. Or would that be too much? I have found all three of the initial writers very approachable. Cast your suspicions aside, and rather than speculate about their motives or actions in long blog comments, try some good faith engagement.

  5. 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.

    Well what can I do that appears to be more than a slow clap. I’ll read a Times and Seasons post and think “I agree” or “That’s insightful” or “I’m glad this was published” and many times it just comes off as feeling lame to make a comment of just that. If Times and Seasons’ template included WordPress’s Like Button feature, I sure would be pressing that for many of the posts here.

  6. Jonathan, I think you had the right idea when you swore off signing manifestos, and you should have avoided this one.

    In the original posting of this manifesto at Public Square, the authors added the following summary at the top of the post. It lays out the intended political framing of the manifesto:

    “Many young believers feel the only options they have are to be rigidly dogmatic to the point of being fundamentalist or to reject the Church’s teachings in favor of progressive political doctrines and intellectualism. This statement encourages intellectual engagement with the Church of Jesus Christ in ways that are faithful and flexible instead of either rigidly dogmatic or heretical and doubting.”

    That summary contrasts two opposing camps you manifesto signers want to distinguish yourselves from, one of them being those who favor “progressive political doctrines” (that’s Democrats: who else favors progressive political doctrines?). That group is also described as “heretical and doubting.” So the authors are quite clearly saying Democrats (and anyone else who favors “progressive political doctrines”) are heretical doubters who should have no place in the Church.

    What a petty and misguided view to publicize and sign. The official position of the Church declares political neutrality and, despite an obvious tilt toward conservative views given the Church’s moral positions, the leadership has never wavered from that official position as far as candidates and parties go. So for you Manifesto people to make this political declaration is not only misguided and harmful, it runs contrary to the official LDS position. It appears you want a smaller church with only people who endorse regressive political doctrines. What on earth are you thinking?

    Don’t tell me that isn’t what the Manifesto meant to say or that it isn’t political — it said so right in its first paragraph! You ought to be thinking of ways to make the Church more inclusive and welcoming rather than signing on to manifestos that try to chase away the people who don’t agree with your personal or political views.

    And, by the way, I disagree with the sense of your “failed academic” reference. History is full of thinkers who were shunned or ignored by the academy of their day but had plenty of great things to say, while the “successful academics” who shunned them are now entirely forgotten. Descartes and Spinoza and Hume come to mind; I’m sure you could add others. It’s just not a meaningful metric.

  7. Being by temperament unorthodox, I suspect that any movement that embraces the term “orthodoxy” is probably not for me. And radical orthodoxy sounds like a fine oxymoron. But there are also a few red flags in the manifesto that concern me. One is the use of the term “fidelity.” If I understand the intent here, it is fidelity to the organization and its teachings. I’m fine with this to a degree, but my loyalty, I believe, should be to the truth first and foremost. When you combine orthodoxy with fidelity to an organization, what you are really concocting is just a euphemism for apologetics. The problem here is that apologetics (or fidelity and orthodoxy) reaches certain conclusions first and then looks for evidence to back up those conclusions. This project hampers the freedom to ask questions that need to be asked and accept the answers that will come and that will sometimes disagree with your preformed conclusions. So, looking past the sophisticated verbiage that dances around the real issues here, I fully expect this “radical orthodoxy” to produce more of the apologetics that we are all accustomed to in the LDS intellectual venture. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong. We’ll see.

  8. Russell, I’ve slept badly, so I’m irritable and grouchy. So with that in mind:

    What do you mean by “the potentially appalling implications of the beliefs of some of those the manifesto arguably associates you with”? Please be specific. John C. was blustering about alt-right trolls, but then retreated to one person who engaged with the alt-right on Twitter, whatever that means, and he was unable or unwilling to back that up with even one name before he shut down the whole conversation. John C.’s a weasel, but you’re not, so drop the innuendo. Who the hell are you talking about?

    I’ll even go first to get things started. I think the implications of Ralph Hancock’s defense of partisanship are appallingly wrong, as he would discover on a walking tour of Homs and Aleppo. And yet I see that he and I agree on some other things that Nathaniel et al. have sketched out. And I should hope we share quite a few beliefs, as Ralph Hancock and I are both members of the church. I don’t see why I would want to modify my willingness to publicly affirm belief in the Restoration, for example, based on his appalling wrongness about partisanship.

    Considering the company that my beliefs associate me with may be a useful heuristic in borderline cases. Like if I were marching to protest public health regulations, I hope I’d notice that a large contingent of my fellow protesters were unhinged and borderline violent. But it’s a mistake to diagnose a large group by the worst individuals one can find in it. Moreover, signing on to “let’s affirm the church’s statements when me think about the church” puts me more firmly in the company of the body of church members, people I’ve covenanted to stand by, even the cranks and weirdos among them. Trying to constantly assess the implications of (other, possibly unknown) opinions of people who I may somehow associate with by virtue of beliefs we do share sounds like hell, or middle school. No, thank you.

    I’m reading your final clause as “I … wonder[…] if, and to what extent, those who sign the RO can say to themselves [that they are glad to be able to call some of those who have not signed or rejected the RO manifesto friends].” Let me know if I’m reading this wrong, but yes? And why is this a question? See what I wrote in my post about “support”; another term I considered was “friendship.” Whatever you call it, there’s too little of it these days, and I wouldn’t have signed on to something that attempted to diminish it.

  9. Dave, the weird thing is, I’m a Democrat (voted a straight party-line ticket; I’d show you my ballot to prove it, but I mailed it in over a month ago) and that’s not how I read what the authors are saying. I’ve sketched out the forces pulling people away from the church a bit differently than the authors do (linked above), but I think they correctly recognize what some of them are. I can see people whose political views are interfering with their relationship with the church without breaking quarantine. I can observe the struggle between intellectual and religious commitments without getting out of bed. I think you’re mistaking the preamble for the authors’ major commitments.

  10. Wally, the trouble with having “the truth” be your first loyalty is that most people over-weight imperfect methods of attaining truth (science, reason) and completely disregard the only sure way (revelation). If we make our Lord and His gospel our first loyalty, he will reveal truth to us.

  11. B, the problem there is that it seems that, too often, direct revelation is behind those imperfect methods. Assuming that desegregation was the best representation of right and truth, the imperfect secular sources (such as SCOTUS in Brown v Board) were about a quarter century ahead of those claiming to receive direct revelation from God. I think I would be more sympathetic if I knew I could trust the Church to be leading out in matters of truth and morality, but it sometimes seems that the Church is too often lagging behind the scientific and the secular.

  12. Jonathan,

    Please be specific.

    Okay, so besides Ralph, whom you mention, there’s J. Max Wilson, Dan Peterson, Terryl Givens, Valerie Hudson Cassler, and a few others. (I guess John C. was mostly talking about Hanna Seariac? Thankfully I’m not on Twitter, so I can’t speak to that accusation.) One could run through those names and conclude: oh yes, the political and social conservatives on the list. Do I actually think their ideas are appalling? And the honest answer would be: not all their ideas, not all the time, but often enough, yes, I do. I presume they would say the same thing about my socialist ideas.

    Does that mean I believe in shunning conservatives? Hardly (just ask some of my compatriots what they really think about my blogging at Front Porch Republic.) It does mean, however, that I do think it necessary to continually assess, and re-assess, how and on what level I am in community with, and should ethically communicate the parameters of my community with, conservatives whom I strongly disagree with in many ways (in the same way that I continually assess, and re-assess, how and what level I am in community socialists whom I also strongly disagree with, though not nearly so often as with conservatives). Being in community with conservatives as church members taking the sacrament is generally no problem, in the same way that being in community with them when it comes to preserving local historic spaces, or attacking corruption at city hall, or enjoying a picnic at the community garden by our campus, or just being a citizen of the state of Kansas, is generally no problem. And if this manifesto really was, as you wrote in your comment, about your shared “willingness to publicly affirm belief in the Restoration,” then I don’t think my own reflections on affective relationships and identity would have been at all relevant to what you signed your name to and what it meant. But of course, the RO Manifesto isn’t really just about a “belief in the Restoration” simpliciter, is it? It’s actually, as you wrote in your original post, a willingness to public affirm belief in “the church’s official statements of the last 25 years”–statements that, in at least a couple of cases, really do involve matters which impinge upon my aforementioned reflections. As I wrote originally, said reflections lead me to dissent from a few of the stated principles of the ROM, and feel frustration that those good principles (who can have a beef with fidelity, revelation, and hope, really?) should be, in my view, shoe-horned into unavoidably exclusive project. Would I have arrived at such an interpretation of the Manifesto’s description of those principles if there hadn’t been what seems to me to be an obviously conservative tilt to the project, evidenced by many who signed it? Perhaps not. But it did, and I did.

    Does mean I’m essentially insisting on being in hell (“other people!”) or middle school (even worse!) forever? I hope not. But then, we all kind of hoped that we wouldn’t have an American church population that was over 60% in support of a president that who violates every norm we ever used to associate with that banal statement read over the pulpit every four years, didn’t we? But we do have that, and so we’re thinking about our communities, and how we situate ourselves in relation to the assumptions which undergird them, or at least that we thought once undergirded them, in different and more contentious ways than was the case, say, 10 years ago, when MST was happening.

    Thanks for your final statement about friendship. It can revolutionize the world I hear, or so someone once said.

  13. Dave, I’m a signatory of the manifesto, and I’m a Democrat. I was invited to sign the manifesto by a co-signatory who is very conservative (but certainly not alt-right), but is very much aware of my political leanings. I don’t know if that will change your mind, or even if you’ll believe me because I’m not one of the more prominent signatories, but I just thought I’d share that.

  14. Russell: I’ve moved beyond grouchy into the incoherent phase, so bear with me.

    Dan Peterson? Terryl Givens? I would be lucky to be mentioned in the same paragraph as them. Nothing against the rest, I’m just not as familiar with what they’ve been up to. What have you got against Terryl Givens? I thought you once mentioned your own reservations about abortion, or at least that you weren’t an absolutist. Has that changed? In any case, I’m not seeing broad agreement with the church’s stance on abortion as an appalling idea I need to distance myself from.

    You’re right that there’s a structural asymmetry when it comes to the various proclamations, but the conservative-vs-progressive opposition is doing double duty. On the one hand it’s describing political views, but at the same time its being used to code self-positioning at the center vs. the margins with respect to the church. If the manifesto seems to be biased toward more committed members, well, yes, I hope so, and the proclamations do useful work as far as that goes. If the manifesto seems to be biased toward more socially conservative members – yes, that’s also true because of where the church and mainstream progressives are on several social issues, but that asymmetry is definitely something to think and worry about.

    When you mention “statements that, in at least a couple of cases, really do involve matters which impinge upon” your current views, I think we’re getting to the heart of the issue. If there’s disagreement with the substance of recent statements, no manifesto centered on them is going to be acceptable. But the disagreement is properly with the declarations, not with the pastime of manifesto writing or the list of signatories.

    I do think there’s potential value in the manifesto for progressives, even if they don’t want to sign on to the whole thing. For example, basic loyalty to the church and other members should suggest looking for the least violent rupture in areas of disagreement, rather than heightening the contradictions. Maybe you can’t accept, say, that gender is eternal, but there are better alternatives than loud apostasy and insistent denial that the apostles have all gone astray.

    You’re right that this would all be easier in a normal political environment. One way to stay sane is to remember that Republicans are generally going to vote Republican no matter what, and not to read too much into that. We can at least be thankful that church leaders have maintained some distance from Trump and avoided the embrace that Evangelicals now have to deal with.

    Could you explain your issues with the “way the principles of fidelity, revelation, and hope were expressed”?

  15. FWIW (probably nothing):

    I’m glad to read the interchange here and learn (I think) that signing the LDS RO Manifesto does not necessarily mean full agreement, but only that one “fundamentally agree[s] with the authors” or their “major commitments”.

    BTW, I would not have characterized Jonathan as a “failed academic” though it seems clear enough that he meant only he’s given up on finding a tenure track job at a university. There are good reasons to do that in the circumstances of the last decade or so, even without attributing any “failure” to those who give it up.

    Also BTW, Russell’s essay at “Mormon Scholars Testify” remains valuable and, in my view, his self-criticisms about that essay may be overdone.

    Thanks for the post and comments.

  16. Jonathan,

    What have you got against Terryl Givens?

    Against his important book By the Hand of Mormon? Nothing; however the conversation may have developed since it was published, it remains a defining, important work in Mormon studies. Against his essay on abortion? A lot, seeing that it was a condescending intervention into complicated moral terrain filled with simplistic bromides (nice to know that he considers language referring to the “health of the mother” in carefully crafted legislative compromises on abortion merely “carte blanche”). My thoughts about the importance of the argument over abortion rights for figuring out where one stands in the midst of various moral arguments have definitely changed over the years (specifically, I don’t think it is nearly as important as I once did), but I don’t think my thoughts about the moral significance of the procedure itself have changed that much since I stopped being being a pro-lifer decades ago; I remain, I suppose, squishy. And I agree with you that “broad agreement with the church’s stance on abortion” does not on its own constitute “an appalling idea I need to distance myself from” (it occurs to me that a lot of our disconnect here may be solely the result of my having used “appalling” in my original post, as opposed to, you know, “wrong” or “bad,” so I apologize for that). But again, the ROM wasn’t about “broad agreement with the church’s stance on abortion,” was it? It was a declaration of principles, one which presents itself as a straight-forward statement of orthodox Mormon belief which escapes progressivism on the one hand Trumpism on the other, but which, on my reading, which actually strongly implied a good deal more moral and political conservatism than I think Mormonism, as I define it, actually makes incumbent upon its believers. Which leads us to…

    If the manifesto seems to be biased toward more committed members, well, yes, I hope so, and the proclamations do useful work as far as that goes. If the manifesto seems to be biased toward more socially conservative members–yes, that’s also true because of where the church and mainstream progressives are on several social issues, but that asymmetry is definitely something to think and worry about.

    “Useful” is doing a lot of work in your first sentence here, I think, given that none of proclamations are scripture. Of course, stating that baldly invites all sorts of questions (questions which I think the ROM implies very clear positions regarding) over what is scripture, what is revelation, who are prophets, etc., etc. I appreciate your acknowledgement of the asymmetry present in the ROM when one brings the conservative-progressive poles into consideration (Nathaniel Givens made a similarly helpful acknowledgement on FB during an exchange with Brad Kramer, observing that the alignment between orthodoxy, as he understood it, and conservative politics used to be unproblematic and even useful for the church in America, but with the rise of Trumpism in the Republican party and general anti-maskism and paranoia, it’s now worrisome). Should I not bring those poles into consideration? You note that doing so involves a double-duty, position people politically (in ways that, again, I think are at least sometimes appalling, as you agreed in your first response) as well as in terms of center-periphery, or, to be more plain, orthodoxy-heterodoxy. If that double-duty admits a certain degree of rhetorical slippage, then perhaps that’s rhetorically problematic, but not so problematic, I think, to not roughly go forward with it. Progressives in the United States today, broadly speaking, think that whatever else may be problematic about my baptized nephew coming out as a trans young man, it’s not a problem that ought to speak to questions of his acceptance as a participant in the social organizations and activities which he was previously a part. Conservatives in the United State today, broadly speaking, are unwilling to declare the non-problemhood of such patterns of association. To the extent that the Proclamation on the Family can be used, and has been used, to articulate Mormon orthodoxy in ways that center the latter understanding as opposed to the former, well, Mormon progressives are likely to consider that appalling. Should Mormon conservatives also “think and worry about” that? Or are those in the center of Mormon orthodoxy, as the ROM defines it, or at least–more relevantly given this conversation, those who find themselves in association with those affirming their centrality–content with that state of affairs. If so, why?

    Could you explain your issues with the “way the principles of fidelity, revelation, and hope were expressed”?

    This one is more straightforward. The ROM defines “fidelity” as loyalty to Jesus Christ and His Restored Church and submission to His divine authority by sustaining and following the local and general leaders of the Church. Since I don’t believe that the first clause requires the second clause (there is such a thing as a loyal opposition, I think), I don’t agree. The ROM qualifies its affirmation of “revelation” as only being legitimate when done while acknowledging the authority and stewardship of duly designated church leaders. Since I don’t see why that should be so (priesthood of all believers adherent here), I don’t agree. Finally, the ROM states that “hope” assumes an optimism as regards the church, and thus the presumption of such towards its leaders. Since I don’t see why I should grant the presently constituted organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a standing before God that has, insofar as I can tell from the scriptures, never been granted to any human organization ever (remember that thing called the Fall?), I don’t agree.

  17. Opus Dei for Mormons. What a surprise. What’s next, Latter-day penitentes?

    From the manifesto: “It is an occasion to reinforce our loyalties to the Resurrected Christ and the Church that bears His name, and to strive to be “lower lights” burning as an example to others who are also navigating the treacherous waters of modern intellectual discourse.”

    This stance/attitude has made the Catholic Church what it is today: a world-class disaster. Any foot along that same path must be turned ASAP. “Modern intellectual discourse” is essential for human progress. If you actually believe in human progress.

  18. I find the comparison of the manifesto to Opus Dei intriguing. But all I know about Opus, I learned from Dan Brown. Not the best source. It would be interesting to see the comparison developed further. The manifesto certainly requires fealty to Church leadership.

    I find the following statement deeply troubling: “the trouble with having “the truth” be your first loyalty is that most people over-weight imperfect methods of attaining truth (science, reason) and completely disregard the only sure way (revelation). With science there are safe guards. With revelation, there are no sure things. Look at polygamy, black priesthood ban, and any number of more minor issues. And “revelations” are frequently confusing and vague, and subject to the imperfect interpretation of men. For example, look at the current interpretation of the WoW. But this statement by B explains the differences between the ultra conservatives and the progressives.

    It is difficult (almost impossible) for me to relate to a group that voted for Trump. It is difficult for me to accept the opinions of individuals who are anti-science. The leadership of the Church needs to decide its feelings toward the forward march of science. Until it does so, the Church will continue to lose it youthful thinkers.

    Russell, I think I agree with you, but your sentences are so long and interspersed with words I don’t use frequently, that I will never be sure.

  19. Russell, thanks for that explanation. Let’s stipulate for now that Terryl Givens is wrong about abortion; what does it say about the priorities of your community-building that you can tolerate only a thin form of community with him, a coreligionist? Are you prioritizing political community over faith community? Or does the problem lie with that constant reappraisal of the implications of the opinions of others, which seems to permit only a thin form of community or even friendship?

    But I think your first paragraph is extremely helpful in identifying a word that is being understood much differently in different places: orthodoxy. I might be wrong in how I think the word is being used, but I understand the orthodoxy as “radical orthodoxy” as something much like devotion: we accept the teachings of Jesus and his church because we love them and are happy to be identified with them and not ashamed of the association, while we “eschew dogmatism.” But it sounds like “radical orthodoxy” is being – understandably – interpreted as a call to be radically orthodox, in the sense of amplifying every hardline or culturally conservative statement any leader has ever made. White shirts and ties/knee-length skirts every day, all the time, and 20% tithing. There may be a real problem in communication associated with the word “orthodoxy” that could be addressed.

    I have no commitment to the word “orthodoxy” and I’d be happy to call it something else. But the authors have correctly identified and tried to address a giant problem: the tendency to set aside anything inconvenient the prophet said as mere opinion by out-of-touch dotards. Progressives have been repeat offenders, but Trumpists are catching up. Progressives need new models of how to approach areas of tension that allow them to remain fully committed to the church.

    I don’t follow much of your second paragraph, and for that I apologize. I’m missing some part of the logic, probably due to my own incoherency in my last comment. Again, my fault. You do bring up a specific example about transgender people and the Proclamation on the Family. But hasn’t the church repeatedly attempted to find a balance over the last few decades between fidelity to the principles stated there – gender is eternal – and solutions to the spiritual needs of transgender people? The church (and as I’ve also seen, local wards) have worked to find the best ways to balance individual happiness with guiding principles. That is what conservatives thinking and worrying about the issue looks like in real life.

    Thanks for your explanation about fidelity, revelation and hope. We have a basic disagreement about the nature of revelation, as I don’t think Luther’s priesthood of all believers works at all in our church. (Otherwise a congregation would set aside a bishopric it doesn’t like and install a new one, the stake presidents would get together to select the next apostle, and we could have dispensed with the whole restoration of the priesthood by resurrected beings.) I think we have a second area of basic disagreement about hope, both with regard to history and the present. (The OT grants the covenant with Israel and the ordinances of the temple in Jerusalem a standing not enjoyed by any other nation or rite, for example, and it’s difficult to maintain a view of the church as just one more human organization without excluding the D&C from the scriptures.) Fundamental disagreements being what they are, I don’t expect you to change your position, but it’s at least useful to understand what your basic position is.

    It seems clear now that the attempt to tarnish the ROM as comforting the Mormon alt-right was made up out of whole cloth. But one thing that did surprise me is the stark negative reaction from progressives that saw the ROM as an attempt to exclude them from the church as a whole. While I may want to dismiss this as a misunderstanding of the intent and impossible to accomplish even if it was the intent, I have to acknowledge that there’s a deep concern about being excluded that I hadn’t expected. If I can trouble you with a few more questions, do you think this concern about exclusion is a response to the current political context? I mean, if I was worried that most of the ward was about to go from familiar conservatives to Trumpist, mask-rejecting, election-negating conspiracy theorists, I might be more than a little worried, too, and maybe I should be. Or if I can ask in a more provocative way: two months ago, progressives did not seem much interested in community with Terryl Givens and other holders of suspiciously conservative opinions. They seemed rather eager to banish him from the community of respectable persons. Now, though, they’re worried about the possibility of being excluded from a community that includes Terryl Givens. Is this mere hypocrisy, demanding for themselves what they are unwilling to extend to others? What don’t I understand about progressives right now, and what’s driving the concern about exclusion from the church? It doesn’t seem justified by either the wording of the ROM or its relative insignificance.

  20. Jonathan, Yes, I think a great deal of the bloggernacle kerfuffle over the LDS ROM could have been avoided had the term “orthodoxy” been avoided. I wonder also, however, what the signers think “radical” means as an adjective applied to whatever they meant by “orthodoxy.” Is Dan Ellsworth’s emphasis on innovation all that “radical” means? Even then, I still haven’t grasped with respect to what the LDS ROM is innovative.

    I agree that “the authors [of the LDS ROM] have correctly identified and tried to address a giant problem: the tendency to set aside anything inconvenient the prophet said as mere opinion by out-of-touch dotards.” It also seems to me that some “Progressives have been repeat offenders” and that some “Trumpists are catching up.”

    But when it gets to the Proclamation on the Family as one of the “tentpoles” of a large-tent Church, many of the objections to it that I’ve heard from people — some but not all of whom could reasonably be called progressives — are not reflective of any such tendency. They are based instead on personal and familial experience, on claims of personal revelation as to what is right/God’s will for them or their families, on biology, on the proclamation’s enshrining culturally based definitions of gender roles in what claims to be universal, and sometimes on its adoption of one of several conflicting, historically-taught Mormon views on whether gender[fn1] is eternal without any claim of revelation beyond the signatures of the then Q15 which may or may not have been affixed as a result of revelation or claim of revelation to all or any of them. Some of those objections can, but they do not necessarily arise out of any kneejerk tendency to set the proclamation aside as opinion of out-of-touch dotards. Instead, they can arise out of giving careful and serious attention to the words of those church leaders, the scriptures, biological science, and personal and familial experience of both temporal and spiritual natures. Some of the objectors are quite willing to accept that Proclamation as a statement of the Church’s current teachings, but not as a statement of universal or ultimate truth. Some of them seem to read the LDS ROM as asserting that they are somehow not deserving of being recognized as faithful members of the Church, i.e. not sufficiently devoted to accepting “the teachings of Jesus and his church because [they] love them and are happy to be identified with them and not ashamed of the association, while … ‘eschew[ing] dogmatism.’”

    I think it perfectly possible to be devoted to the teachings of Jesus and his church, to love them, to be happy and not ashamed to be identified with them without accepting or wearing the labels of “radical,” “orthodox,” and without accepting the Proclamation on the Family as a “tentpole” holding up what should be a big tent church. For some that Proclamation is more like a weak tentpeg in current use on a many-pegged tent and readily replaceable or even removable without risk of collapsing the tent.

    To the limited extent I understand the LDS ROM, I remain unconvinced that it will help address the “giant problem” rather than add to the “giant problem.”

    fn1 Objections to eternal gender are also sometimes based on the Proclamations assumption that all humans fall into one or another of two genders (understood as sex at birth) — a falsehood as to the physical biology of a variety of conditions, some of which are not even observable at birth. Accordingly, when the proclamation purports to apply to “all human beings — male and female” it can be read as attempting to define out of the human family the androgynous, those males who also happen to have a functioning pair of ovaries, possibly the Guevedoces of that small community in the Dominican Republic,where some males are born looking like girls and only grow penises at puberty or others. Note: These biological issues are not at all the same as the issues raised by transgender assertions or reality, which I understand to some degree between very little and not at all.

  21. Wondering: I don’t think the Proclamation on the Family is any different in quality than the other proclamations, only that it’s the one most likely to lead to objections. It’s rarer for people to object to the proclamations on Christ and the Restoration specifically (although it’s not all that unusual for people to suggest that the church really should retreat from its claim to be the only true church).

    So the question is, what do you do about a formal proclamation issued by the church with the signatures of the twelve apostles and the first presidency that you just can agree with, at least not in every point? Frankly, that kind of thing should make you worry. But – and here I’m speaking for myself; I don’t know if the authors would agree – the ROM is as much or more about how you react in that situation as it is about just signing a statement of faith. Some of the reactions you mention seem like knee-jerk catastrophizing that doesn’t help anybody. “The proclamation doesn’t mention my condition, therefore the church denies my humanity” is not only illogical, but testable and falsifiable. Could that person still be baptized? Yes, so the obvious answer is that the church fundamentally accepts their humanity. Seeking clarification is better than wallowing in worst-case hypotheticals. Or, as you mention, someone could accept a proclamation as current church teaching rather than a final statement on the topic (I think that sounds about right to me). Maybe someone finds themselves in a position where they can’t maintain church membership, but they can still choose to attend church meetings, participate in the life of their ward, and support the church activity of friends and family members. That, I think, is fidelity to the church, and has much better downstream consequences that denying the importance of the church’s current teachings or rejecting the apostles as senile and outmoded.

  22. I just checked our over-active spam filter and released several comments. If your comment spent the day in limbo, I’m sorry about that. If I decided to leave your comment in the spam filter, I’m not sorry at all.

  23. Jonathan,

    Thanks again for the thoughtful response, and please don’t feel any need to apologize for not following my second paragraph; re-reading it, I can see that I really wasn’t particularly clear at all. The basic intention of my claims there had to do with how we–as invariably political creatures, and thus not truly able to extricate ourselves from the conservative-progressive tropes which inform so many of our associations (and our thinking about those associations) in America today–shouldn’t pretend that we aren’t making connections with such tropes when we position ourselves within the communities that we affiliate with. Hence my appreciation for your acknowledging the asymmetry involved in a project like ROM; it really does lean more in one direction than another, at least in regards to a couple of highly controversial axes. Obviously, the particular leaning of a one interpretation of orthodoxy isn’t itself an argument against that interpretation. But I am leery nonetheless of interpretations of orthodoxy that seem capable of situating a particular leaning as closer to the center; it strikes me as implying a political confidence that is fundamentally unwarranted when it comes to divine things. Hence my clumsy appropriation of your own words to ask if those who embrace what strikes me as a fairly Proclamation-centric reading of orthdoxy shouldn’t “think and worry about” their own positioning as well.

    What does it say about the priorities of your community-building that you can tolerate only a thin form of community with him, a coreligionist?

    Hmm, I would push back against your reading here. Remember that the clear implication of what I wrote a couple of comments above was that I could see no reason why Givens and I, as fellow children of God, couldn’t join in community for the sacrament, for picnicking in the garden, for fighting for common causes, or just dwelling in citizenship with one another. The ROM is presenting something rather particular; it is not, I think, necessarily an expression of thick commitments. Indeed, I think one could argue that the solidarity being implied as a co-signer of a manifesto is itself much more thin than the other ways I mentioned above.

    Progressives need new models of how to approach areas of tension that allow them to remain fully committed to the church.

    I don’t disagree with that, and I can think of some interesting thinking that’s been done in regards to this problem. I would add that progressives and conservatives alike need new models of how to legitimate each others’ expressions of commitment, given the fundamentally pluralistic nature of what individual conversion to a revelatory and communal phenomenon looks like, in contrast to individual consent to a rule of law, which is by definition pretty uniform.

    Otherwise a congregation would set aside a bishopric it doesn’t like and install a new one, the stake presidents would get together to select the next apostle, and we could have dispensed with the whole restoration of the priesthood by resurrected beings.

    Obviously you’re correct that the congregationalist possibilities which existed in the church circa 1830-1832 have (unfortunately, in my view) long since departed, and so the slogan “priesthood of all believers” doesn’t provide much ecclesiastical guidance within the present organization. I am uncertain, however, that I would agree with your logic all the way up the chain. Your own insightful historical and comparative work on what “restoration” can be understood as meaning (along with the writings of John Young, Taylor Petrey, Miranda Wilcox, and others) has been a valuable aid to my working out over the years of a realization that I’ve carried with me for decades: that I just don’t feel much, if any, truth to the idea that Smith’s restoration work had some singular salvific significance. A unique significance, to be certain (despite the–I think usually kind of weird–efforts by some historical reconstructionists, there aren’t multiple translations of the Book of Mormon out there). But a singular, exclusive one? Not really. Hence, I would disagree that the whole story of the restoration as the church tells it, complete with resurrected beings, is necessarily, ineliminably connected to the presenting existing priesthood structure.

    do you think this concern about exclusion is a response to the current political context?

    While I can’t speak for anyone else who has written critically about the ROM (some of whom are commenting here; maybe they could share their thoughts), given what I wrote above it would be foolish to deny that I think it is. Again, as I said originally, it’s a different world than the one which existed when Mormon Scholars Testify was put together more than a decade ago. Depending on what historical signposts seem most relevant to you, one could argue that the “concern about exclusion” has been growing consistently for 30 years now, or even longer, or one might argue that it’s always been present, and that it waxes and wanes with the ordinary turn-over of leadership and the flow of issues as the decades go by. But wherever one falls in regards to any of that, I do think that this moment is one which, in the United States at least, questions of membership, and inclusion and exclusion, particularly fraught. (Quasi-Marxist that I am, I’m going to insist again upon the material component of whatever these root causes may be; that’s why I wrote “political/moral/technological moment” originally–as you also kind of implied in the first paragraph of your original post, part of the reason why any of this is happening has to be because of what has changed about or what we now fear about or our general concern about the social media and blogging worlds through which we move.) I’m going to demur from responding directly to your more provocative framing of the question, though, because I don’t consider myself situated in any kind of position to determine who or what “the community of respectable persons” is. If you could give me a specific location for that community (Steve Evans’s Twitter feed?), then maybe I could make a judgment. As it is, though, your provocation actually seems to me free-floating enough that one could just as easily turn it around. Consider this interpretation: when Givens published his abortion essay (that’s what I presume you’re referring to when you write “two months ago,” correct?), he successfully claimed the respectable high ground, and the progressives were all pissed at being excluded from it, and said so. But now, as the progressives have been having their own grousing fun at pointing out that there appear to be a fair number of Trumpists and other people with appalling opinions occupying that same respectable high ground, along the comes the ROM, ostensibly to claim that actually, really, the respectable high ground is something quite different, and not nearly as exclusionary, but the progressives are having none of it. Doesn’t fit the actual state of affairs, you say? Probably not–but it’s not an entirely implausible reading, I think.

    I’m enjoying this; hope we can keep it up over the weekend.

  24. Jonathan, I pretty much agree that “Maybe someone finds themselves in a position where they can’t maintain church membership, but they can still choose to attend church meetings, participate in the life of their ward, and support the church activity of friends and family members. That, I think, is fidelity to the church, and has much better downstream consequences that denying the importance of the church’s current teachings or rejecting the apostles as senile and outmoded.” And with some of the rest of your response. I’m also please to learn that for some “the ROM is as much or more about how you react in that situation as it is about just signing a statement of faith.” Unfortunately, that is not how some others appear to have read it. It seems many people take different parts of it (or its preamble, etc.) seriously or literally and react to what they understand of it. Perhaps that means they are not its target audience — or that it is fundamentally confusing. Perhaps the Proclamation on the Family and/or its readers has/have some of the same communication problem. ( For example, you realize, of course, that “all human beings — male and female” is a quotation from the Proclamation.) There are those who have considered all those objections to the Proclamation that I mentioned (and more) and “still choose [to remain members] to attend church meetings, participate in the life of their ward, and support the church activity of friends and family members.” That seems like fidelity to me, too. But it doesn’t look like what some think the LDS ROM saying about fidelity. The more I read it, the less I understand it or its purpose. But I’ve otherwise come to understand some of its authors and signers better, even if not understanding what they wrote or signed on to.

  25. Russell, you make several excellent points. Should I be suspicious of definitions of orthodoxy that put me at the center? Yes, absolutely, deeply suspicious. We all should. I’m also glad to hear that you still think thick commitments and real community are still possible even with people who write appalling things, and I agree that signing an online manifesto is pretty thin compared to the things you mention (although, you know, you gotta start somewhere).

    Progressives and conservatives alike need new models of how to legitimate each others’ expressions of commitment

    This is an excellent way to formulate a really important point. It’s worthy of a manifesto of its own. I keep thinking of negative examples, things people should stop doing, but positive examples are both more important and harder to come up with.

    I’ll keep thinking about your last comment and see if I come up with anything else. Thanks for keeping the conversation going.

  26. Just curious….

    The manifesto identifies the signatories as disciples of Jesus Christ. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. What type of “inner circle” does one need to be involved in to be contacted with the option to sign this manifesto? I was never contacted.

  27. On the right side of the page is depicted a Latter-day Saint chapel. On its far right is shown the OTHER side of the chapel. A crowd of rubes types is shown there. They are crowding into the doors to the chapel from that side. Most of them are carrying MAGA signs, which they place in a stack before they enter the chapel doors.

    On the center side of the chapel, its bishop is standing in its door. Nearby him is a scholar with a stack of loose papers, some of which are falling to the ground. The papers carry the label, in cartoon fashion, RADICAL ORTHODOXY. Their holder holds a placard giving his I.D. as “nathaniel.”

    A group of people ALSO holding stacks of papers are positioned in the middle of the field. They are labeled “Weblog B.C.C.” This group of scholars are labeled PROGMORMS.

    A large contingent of the ivy league youth are spilling out from the gothic halls depicted on the left. These students join the ProgMorms. Both are agitated and derisive. Cartoon language-bubbles point down to their mouths. “BOO!” “TRAITORS!” One ProgMorm’s exclaims to nathaniel: DAN PETERSON LOVER!

    A professor from the university likewise addresses nathaniel. “Have you now, or have you ever, been associated with MAGA-ites?”

  28. I recall a politically conservative club at BYU called the Fidelio Society, where a history professor who’d go on Glenn Beck’s show to talk in a Transatlantic accent about Tolkien would mentor students and send them to an annual conference at Princeton, where they’d strengthen their resolve to not cave to progressives in the academy. I regret that I’d already graduated by the time I thought to start an Infidelio Society at BYU.

    I bring this up to say that perhaps the strain within the church of equating conservatism with faithfulness is a deeprooted one.
    Dave B.’s quoting of the RO Manifesto authors as earlier expressing their purpose as seeking to counter political progressivism among LDS faithful is important and telling. On the same note, Nathaniel Givens was quoted by Peggy Fletcher Stack on December 5 as saying he was spurred to write the manifesto because of online Mormonism is “slanted heavily toward progressivism.”

    Many are questioning the motives of the Radical Orthodoxy folks, and with good reason: the group is on a blitz to pain themselves as apolitical faithfuls who happen to all be conservative, yet amidst all their public statements they keep letting slip that they were spurred to write this manifesto in order to combat progressivism among the faithful.

    Which is it, Jonathan? If it’s both, can you lay out an less-ambiguous-than-the-manifesto explanation (brief is fine) as to why a progressive worldview and gospel faithfulness are incompatible? And if they are compatible in your view, then, my God, why go through all this trouble?

  29. “There’s a dangerous culture of obedience throughout much of this country that’s worse in Utah than anywhere.”
    Rocky Anderson 2007

    Lee, a Utah Republican, who made the comparison at a Trump rally on Wednesday in Phoenix, encouraged his “Mormon friends” to “think of [Trump] as Captain Moroni” because “he seeks not power, but to pull it down. He seeks not the praise of the world or the ‘fake news,’ but he seeks the well-being and the peace of the American people.”

  30. I just read the manifesto and some posts related to it as “creative conformity.”

    Well, they DO seem to mention certain regrettable shibboleths in the Academy and among Academy-credentialed latter-day saint intellectuals, though. (But, then, while I love noam chomsky, I also really appreciate jonah goldberg and prefer peggy noonan to maureen dowd. I much prefer thomas friedman to paul krugman, and noah feldman over laurence tribe. And looove glenn greenwald!)

  31. The first signer below the three authors of the manifesto is Valerie Hudson Cassler. Fwiw here is a 2009 devotional essay of hers about how to approach matters when church pronouncements seem “anachronistic”/”insensitive” @ http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudson4May.html .

    I’ve also noted that within the salt lake tribune’s reportage, USU mormon-studies scholar patrick mason talks about middle ground which advocates of radical orthodoxy see between alleged “errors of unbridled progressivism and recalcitrant fundamentalism.” To Saints who also strongly believe either in progressivism or fundamentalism, Is there any such thing as unbridled or recalcitrant degrees of commitment?

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