From These Stones God is Able to Raise Up Pioneer Stock Members

There are two rhetorical practices used by ex-members and reform-minded cultural Mormons that I’ve noticed being used more recently. 

Latter-day Saint culture places a high premium on deference to authority. If you want to shut down a discussion with the orthodox who “pay the tithing and do the believing;” who are the primary fuel line for the Church, just communicate that the brethren are fundamentally wrongheaded. Some people do this, of course, but I get the sense they’re generally speaking among themselves. (You can tell when a movement to change the Church is more concerned with martyrdom than actually trying to change things based on their approach in this regard). 

The more sophisticated and strategic will try to play within the ideological space that is more palatable to the rank and file for the Church. They will, for example, quote Church leaders as authorities when it’s highly doubtful that they personally hold the same deference to the very authority that they are hinging their argument on, or they will try to heavily prooftext the Proclamation as if it is anything besides a heavily heteronormative document that espouses traditional gender roles.

As a matter of strategy I get it, but the disingenuousness of it all makes me roll my eyes, and while some of this is more transparent than others (I once saw an openly pro-pornography apologist invoking General Conference talks to make his point). I think most people can see through what they’re doing, but for some people that are a little more lacking in discernment using Church content to make an argument that is clearly counter to the Church’s position can be confusing. 

Of course, non-believers pointing out theological inconsistencies, or non-believers invoking inside baseball values and references to make a point, isn’t always patronizing (for the most part I thought the Hillary Clinton campaign’s appeal to Church members was a good example of how to do this right), but it’s another thing to imply that they’re on the same team, as it were, when theologically they’re really not. In these cases the invocation of in-group language acts as a kind of shibboleth, as if to say “I am one of you, so you can trust me,” and as I’ve noted before, in those cases critiquing people’s private beliefs or sincerity is fair game.  

On the same note of in-group identification, I am surprised at how often ex-members or reform-minded members begin their narrative with “as an 8th generation, pioneer stock Latter-day Saint…,” or references to their Eagle Scout/Young Women’s award, or their Church leader lineage, seemingly oblivious to how closely they’re quoting the pharisees,  as if the Savior didn’t warn about this all the time (e.g. “the first shall be last”). By invoking their multigenerational or blue blood status they seem to be implying “I’m a real member with the authentic Mormon experience, unlike those converts in Timbuktu.”

The converts in Timbuktu who have no idea who Wilford Woodruff is but who sacrifice to do their ministering are the Kingdom in ways that the BYU faculty whose affiliation with the church stems mostly from nostalgia or sociocultural or professional inertia will never be. And when speaking from the spirit the Timbuktu ploughboys and ploughgirls “know more of the [gospel]” than the blue bloods with the complete Dialogue/BYU Studies set on their bookshelf.

10 comments for “From These Stones God is Able to Raise Up Pioneer Stock Members

  1. As a convert, you’ve touched on a lot of what frustrated me when coming in contact with these types of arguments online as I was investigating the Church. I’ve been shocked at how little these “multigenerational”, “blue-blood” types seem to understand about the actual message the Gospel is bringing to the world. I’ve felt the “Timbuktu spirit” especially in the Church’s ARP meetings. I think what it comes down to is need. These people are generally from the Mormon corridor. They have no need for placing trust in something greater than themselves. Thanks for articulating thoughts I’ve been having.

  2. As a 7th generation, pioneer stock Latter-day Saint and Eagle Scout living in the Wasatch Front with a couple of bookshelves filled with Latter-day Saint books and literature, I think you’re completely on point here, Stephen.

  3. In the spirit of some of Stephen’s other recent posts, let’s see if ChatGPT gives a more charitable take.

    “There can be several reasons why ex-members or reform-minded members might choose to begin their narrative with phrases like “as an 8th generation, pioneer stock Latter-day Saint,” or reference their Eagle Scout/Young Women’s award, or highlight their Church leader lineage. Some of these reasons may include:

    “1. Establishing credibility: By mentioning their generational background or achievements within the Church, individuals may seek to establish their credibility within the context of their narrative. They believe that their deep roots in the faith or personal accomplishments lend weight to their perspective and experiences.

    “2. Appealing to authority: Referring to their lineage of Church leaders or prestigious awards can be an attempt to invoke a sense of authority or legitimacy. They might hope that by aligning themselves with respected figures or recognized achievements, their viewpoint will carry more weight and be taken seriously by others.

    “3. Demonstrating commitment: Mentioning their generational membership or accomplishments within the Church can serve as a testament to their long-standing commitment to their faith. It indicates that they have been deeply involved and dedicated to the religion for a significant period, which may make their departure or reform-minded stance more impactful.

    “4. Signaling shared experience: By highlighting their background as an “8th generation, pioneer stock Latter-day Saint,” individuals might be signaling that they have firsthand experience of the traditions, culture, and practices within the Church. They aim to connect with others who share similar backgrounds and experiences, creating a sense of community or empathy.

    “5. Challenging assumptions: Some ex-members or reform-minded individuals may employ these references to challenge assumptions about their motivations or intentions. They might be aware that the broader LDS community often expects lifelong commitment and views certain achievements as markers of faithfulness. By starting their narrative in this way, they are intentionally subverting these expectations and prompting a reconsideration of preconceived notions.

    “6. Providing context: Including details about their generational background or Church-related achievements can offer context for their subsequent arguments or criticisms. It helps the audience understand where they are coming from and how their experiences within the Church have shaped their perspectives. It may also provide a frame of reference for the changes they advocate or the reasons for their departure.

    “It is important to note that these reasons are not exhaustive, and individual motivations may vary. People have unique experiences and personal reasons for framing their narratives in specific ways, and these examples should be understood as general possibilities rather than definitive explanations for every case.”

  4. @Helaman: I do feel like the median member Church leaders implicitly invoke in messaging is more and more along the lines of the convert from outside the Mormon cultural region, and less the establishment Mormon types. I suspect this will increase as the Church diversifies.

    In some very particular contexts (I gave the example of the BYU professor with leadership ancestors) you can get by on sociocultural inertia, which I guess is better than nothing, but the problem comes when they try to impose that in the Church at large (you see this when people suggest with a straight face that the Church could keep functioning without the truth claims).

    @Chad: I too am the umpteenth generation with books on my shelf, and of Utah extraction (who isn’t the best about doing my ministering). There may be some projection going on on my part….

    @Chat GPT: As long as it’s Bing chat of Chat GPT 4.0, and not that abomination 3.5.

  5. While I was being a bit tongue in cheek in my response, I do think you are on point here.

  6. I’ve never understood who “Mormon royalty” was supposed to impress. My guy, we’ve spent the last 160 years dismissing Joseph Smith’s offspring as hopeless apostates.

  7. Your point that people can signal faithfulness in various ways while arguing for something that is deeply wrong is well taken. It would stand without all the judging of other peoples’ testimonies and assuming the worst about other people’s motives. Maybe that hypothetical BYU professor who is teaching something contrary to the Family Proclamation has a strong testimony of the atonement and the restoration, does their ministering faithfully, and they’re only wrong on this one point. That doesn’t make them any less wrong, but it ought to be possible to argue against their ideas while maintaining charity for them. President Nelson had something to say about that recently–or maybe that’s just me signaling.

    Seems to me that the people who are best at signaling they’re a “True Believing Mormon” while arguing for something that’s contrary to the Gospel are the people who really do think of themselves as “True Believing Mormons.” DesNat comes to mind (not this post!). Church members need to be better at discerning truth from error and this post has some valuable tools for doing so, but the problem is error, not disingenuousness.

  8. RLD, your phrase true believing Mormon stirred a phrase into memory: “No true Latter-Day Saint”.

    So I looked it up. It’s used from Brigham to Kimball to Benson to McConkie to Romney (Marion).

    I’m sure many more. It’s a reasonable attempt to distinguish the faithful and sincere questioners from agitators or those seeking to benefit from association.

    It had the negative side of dividing and setting two parties at variance with each other.

    I’d suggest, however the phrase was used in the past, the current example of President Nelson is not only one we should follow but exemplify and magnify.

    True, we need to be clear when wrong is wrong. And speak the truth. But no need to divide family and friend over faith accusations

  9. Sute, I think we’re on the same page here. What I meant to convey is that if someone comes forward with an idea, the question of whether they’re a “Reformer” or a “True Believer” is entirely irrelevant to the important question, which is whether their idea is right or wrong. What I could and probably should have added is that it’s better to quit judging people and putting them in those kinds of baskets entirely.

  10. If your closing point is that in the midst of any of the (possibly cultural but probably inevitable) jockeying and discussion about *what* “the gospel” is and who has determining claims on it… the real gospel of Jesus Christ is a religion of practice and the most worthwhile claim to having grasped it *is* its devoted practice, boy howdy do I agree.

    But since the rest of the post examines and itself does some jockeying:

    > the disingenuousness of it all makes me roll my eyes,

    Holding people to account for the weight and implications of statements by figures they regard as special authorities doesn’t seem disingenuous to me, even by someone who doesn’t have the same relationship with that authority. Both implicit and explicit forms of “I’m skeptical of your premise, but let’s say for the sake of argument that we accept it” are a common occurrence in good faith discussion, and there’s no reason I can see the general authority of a given figure couldn’t treated the same way.

    Denying someone the right to invoke an authority you give a great deal of weight to sure seems disingenuous to me, though. Especially if you insist *everyone* should regard them as an authority. And in that situation, any objection about team-pretense falls away — you have already demanded everyone be on that authority’s team. Telling them they can’t invoke that authority but must eventually regard them as such is essentially an expression of values like “there must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

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