The “Open Letter” to the Prophet of the Mormon Church

LetterAndrew Ainsworth on his Facebook page had a link to something called “An open letter to President Thomas S. Monson: Prophet of the Mormon Church.” Andrew adds, “Hoping this will lead to positive results.”

If what Andrew is hoping for is further dialogue on the subjects the letter brings up, then I’m about to give him some (small) positive results. However, I’m going to make the case that this letter is more destructive then constructive and that Andrew is wrong to support it.

I am not going to link to the letter because, frankly, I don’t want to raise its Google ranking. But it’s easy enough to find if you’re curious. I am going to analyze this letter and ask some question and encourage comments. I am going to make the case that this letter is being specifically written from (and can only be read as) a non-believing view point and that it is primarily a stunt at anti-Mormon publicity rather than a serious attempt to resolve the problems it outlines. I will do this by outlinging the specific claims the letter makes and making brief comments. Possible extended future points for discussion will be mentioned.

Who Is Writing this Letter?

The letter claims it represents “We are a part of a community of thousands of current and former members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Right away I find myself asking if this letter is going to be written from a believing or non-believing point of view. Are the people on the letter people that – whether they have left the Church or not – no longer believe in the defining truth claims of the Church?

Certainly the letter won’t be taking a purely believing view point given that it claims to represent former members. So that leaves us with two options. The letter is either being written specifically from a non-believing view point or it is going to make the claim that it’s simply taking a ‘neutral’ viewpoint in some way.

Based on my life experience I happen to believe that ‘neutral viewpoints’ rarely, if ever, exist on emotionally charged topics – Indeed I am doubtful that human beings are really capable of neutral viewpoints except on mundane issue because of the way our minds happen to be biologically formed. More typically a single viewpoint is being taken one way or the other. I think we all know that this is true even while we try to claim we are the exception.

I also know from my life experience that a claim of neutrality will always be made for all biased viewpoints no matter how biased.

The Letter’s Purpose

We then get to the purpose statement of the letter: “Recent events surrounding the Church, including the court case in the UK, have prompted us to add our voices to the conversation about the desire for transparency.”

The recent events mentioned is a UK lawsuit by anti-Mormon Tom Phillips suing the church for ‘fraud.’ Phillips claims that the Church’s teachings are false and therefore any tithes they collect are legally fraud. The USA Today article describes this lawsuit and does a good job of explaining that it is not a valid lawsuit because secular courts in Britain (and probably almost everywhere in the western world) are barred from legally trying the truth claims of a religion. And for the Evangelicals out there that are getting a kick out of this, Phillips also filed a law suit claiming all religions that believe in a real Adam and Eve are fraudulent too.

The Letter is Specifically Non-Believing Viewpoint

We are a mere two lines into the letter and we already have our answer as to whether or not this letter is taking a non-believing viewpoint.

At issue here is the nature of the original event that the letter uses as a jumping off point. Let me just make a few quotes from the USA Today article to give you a flavor for how legal experts view this frivolous lawsuit:

I’m sitting here with an open mouth,” said Neil Addison, a former crown prosecutor and author on religious freedom. “I think the British courts will recoil in horror. This is just using the law to make a show, an anti-Mormon point. And I’m frankly shocked that a magistrate has issued it.”

 

Harvey Kass, a British solicitor, referred to the summons as “bizarre,” adding, “I can’t imagine how it got through the court process. It would be set aside within 10 seconds, in my opinion.”

 

Legal scholars in England expressed bewilderment at the summonses, saying British law precludes challenges to theological beliefs in secular courts.

So we are clearly talking about an anti-Mormon legal circus here. There is no doubt about that. And this is the event that has caused the people on this letter to “add our voices to the conversation about the desire for transparency”?

What makes this even more difficult is the fact that the law suit in question was specifically about the Church’s truth claims being “fraululent.” The letter in question does nothing whatsoever to distance itself from this media circus and even jumps on the bandwagon. There is no mention of “of course we disagree with Tom Phillip’s frivilous attention getting law suit.” Nor is there any mention of “while we agree with Phillip’s desire for greater transparency, we disagree with him that this will prove the Church fraudulent.” In other words, the letter intentionally jumps off from a story abou the Church being fraudulent and therefore at least seems to agree with that point of view.

Now, by the letter’s own admission, we know for sure that at least some of the people on the letter are non-believers because the letter specifically tells us it represents former members who have “made the difficult choice to leave.”

John Dehlin’s “Third Path”

What about the supposed “current members” on the letter? Now we know that John Dehlin and others have long popularized the idea that you can entirely disbelieve all the defining truth claims of the Church while still being an active in the Church as, in part, a way of changing the Church from within. John has even written this article about how to creatively re-imagine the temple recommend interview questions such that no matter what you believe, even if you are an outright atheist, you can still get a temple recommend.

Further, you are still technically a member even if you entirely disbelieve all of the doctrines so long as you haven’t gone through the formal process of having your name removed. So the mere fact that some people on the letter are still members means pretty much nothing by itself.

The letter writers seem to realize this so they go on to address this concern by claiming claim that they represents “current… bishops, Relief Society presidents, Elders Quorum presidents, Primary presidents, Young Women and Young Men leaders, missionaries…”

Now I’m going to be frank here, I find this a little hard to believe. Are there really current bishops signing this letter? Or are the authors of this letter merely adding that to falsely add credibility?

Perhaps what they actually mean is not that current Bishops have signed the letter but merely they’ve heard of current Bishops having these sorts of issues. Therefore they are claiming to represent these non-signatories as well.

Now I know the Bloggernacle well enough to know that someone is going to try to claim “well, maybe there are believing Mormons signing this letter and they just want to emphasize the importance of transparency and agree with the overall message but not with the media circus that is the basis for the letter.” To be frank, the Bloggernacle says the darndest things. But since people on the Bloggernacle do say things like this, let me make this point:

Yes, I have no way of knowing for sure if everyone on this letter is a non-believer. Heck, maybe it’s even true that there is some current Bishop signing this letter. But if there is, this current Bishop (as well as all the believing members signing this letter) have made a grave mistake by associating their names with a letter that is specifically supporting an anti-Mormon media circus. I am just not sure how else to say this. If they wanted to be taken seriously as a believing Member that is pushing for transparency, this was definitively the worst possible way they could have gone about it.

Now personally, I happen to be a believing member myself and I am pushing for the Church to seek greater transparency. So I am not claiming there aren’t believing members that would like to see the Church increase knowledge about what John Dehlin calls ‘the tough stuff’ or ‘issues.’ But a believing member tends to have very different reasons for why they want the Church to be more transparent about its history than from why the John Dehlin-sphere or ex-Mormon community wants them to. I would never sign a letter like this that was promoting an anti-Mormon media circus about the Church being fraudulent and clearly trying to add to it, and I doubt the vast majority of believing members would either.

So I’m going to make some tentative conclusions about this letter’s intent:

  1. We know it’s intentionally attempting to further an anti-Mormon media circus
  2. We know its claims such as “we represent current Bishops” is currently unsupported. (If someone that signs the letter wants to tell me they are a current Bishop, I would love to talk to them and hear them out. I’ll even interview them on Millennial Star here. Yes, expect hard questions about whether or not this was a wise move on your part.)
  3. We know the mere existence of current members on the letter tells us nothing about their status as believers.
  4. We know that if some believing member did sign this letter, that they really chose a poor way to make their point that will frankly undermine their goals.

All of the above are facts that really do not lend itself well to any reading of this letter other than as intentionally taking a non-believing viewpoint.

The Letter’s Specific Claims

Okay, let’s now go on to summarize the specific claims this letter makes:

  • People signing the letter claim they have carefully examined unanswered questions and were “shocked” (their word, not mine) at what they found.
  • They found critical details that “had never been shared with us” and go on to say “After attending, serving, and participating fully in the Church, we felt these were issues we should have known about.”  

This seems to be specifically a claim that the Church had a moral responsibility to make all such details aware to all members of the Church. I can’t think of any other way of reading these lines. I will discuss this more a bit later.

The Church’s Most Difficult Issues

  • It lists the following at the main issues they found that “shocked” them:
    • Multiple accounts of the First Vision
    • Controversy around the source and translation of The Book of Abraham
    • Changing views regarding Native American lineage
    • Issues surrounding polygamy and polyandry
    • Priesthood roles in the early church [1]
    • The source of the Book of Mormon text

We (have or) will cover every single one of these topics on Millennial Star in a very open manner. In fact, this is now my list for future posts as far as I’m concerned. Having a specific list of issues certainly narrows the discussion from a generic ‘there are problems.’

One item on this list in particular is polygamy. I would highly recommend Meg Stout’s excellent articles on Joseph Smith’s polygamy as a very interesting alternative view that also delves deeply into these issues quite openly.

Emotional Anguish over Loss of Faith

  • It claims that not knowing about these issues resulted in emotional anguish when they were found out and that if the Church had made these issues known in church that emotional anguish would have been avoided.

It is difficult for me to make sense of this claim because, of course, it does not explain why hearing it in Church would have avoided the emotional anguish.

My own feeling, as a believer, is that the Church should bring these up as non-issues in church because then when these facts are later exploited as arguments against the Church’s defining truth claims they will not seem like disproofs at all, but merely exploitation of facts. I will give examples of what I mean in future posts.

But this letter is clearly not suggesting this approach at all. They are merely saying that the Church should go over the evidence against their own truth claims. It is very difficult for me to understand how the Church doing this would in any way reduce the emotional anguish these people experienced. Wouldn’t it just cause it sooner? But perhaps that is where they are going with this: that they would have stopped believing and/or left the Church sooner had they known and have given less to what they now see as a false organization.

None of the above probably seems all that out of the ordinary to most of our readers. This is pretty standard ex-Mormon stuff to be sure. But this next claim does represent a difference that I find very encouraging in the ex-Mormon community.

At Last! The Post-Belief-Mormon Community Can No Longer Claim The Church is Hiding 

  • “We are pleased to see that the leadership of the Church has recognized this need to grant wider access to accurate information by publishing a series of essays on LDS.org addressing some of these controversial issues.”

And there we have it! The ex-Mormon community has always claimed that the Church is hiding these facts because they are embarrassing and are trying to bury them. And they literally can’t make that claim anymore thanks to all the awesome articles the Church has now published on their own website!

Now, of course, the only thing that has changed here is that the Church is now publishing such articles on their own. Ever since the Maxwell Instituted decided to emphasize regular religious scholarship (not Mormon-centric) rather than defending the Churches truth claims through scholarship – nothing wrong with this by the way, there is need for both – we have had a bit of a dearth of good scholarship trying to address the Church’s truth claims.

FAIR has their wiki, of course, which has addressed every single one of the above facts that “shocked” those on the letter. And FAIR does so in a very comprehensive manner. So the idea that these items have not been addressed at all just isn’t true. But since FAIR didn’t represent the Church officially, the ex-Mormon community has long ignored them and concentrated on what they see as a moral responsibility of the Church itself to address such issues. But now that the Church has addressed such issues on its own website – surprise! – the ex-Mormon community is not at all happy with it. Which leads us to the letter’s next point.

Post-Belief-Mormons Won’t Be Happy Until the Church Admits It’s False

  • They complain that the articles the Church is putting out addressing the very issues they list are a) too hard to find, b) not labeled as official doctrine. They claim that not being labeled as official doctrine causes members to be “wary” of the church’s own attempts to address their listed issues. Therefore they feel the Church is not doing enough. Instead they want to see this material “Inclu[ded]… in the correlated material used in church meetings, seminary, MTC courses, and with investigators.”

So this letter is simply making a demand that has been around in the ex-Mormon community forever, namely that the Church needs to take their Sunday School lessons and openly discusses the evidence against their own truth claims in Sunday School and in the Missionary Discussions. The idea I’ve seen expressed over and over by the ex-Mormon community is that the Church has a moral duty to make all arguments for and against its truth claims known upfront so that people can make an informed decision.

Now personally, I’ve always felt the ex-Mormon community was being rather unfair here. It is very difficult for me to imagine any religion that would be well served by taking their Sunday School lessons and turning them into a scholarly look at the best evidence against their own truth claims. Can someone please point to me any religion that does this? It seems to me to be a wildly unrealistic demand of religions.

In fact, can someone please show me any organization at all that can fulfill this supposed moral demand about itself? Is there any public or private business that does this? Is there any political party? Oh, does this letter tells us everything about the true motives of its authors? Does it truthfully tell us who is really behind it? (i.e. current Bishops?) Just how transparent is this letter? Does it present the strongest evidences against it’s own truth claims?

Still, the basic underlying idea that the Church should do more to bring up these ‘issues’ in advance is wise advice, though of course I would never want the Church to do so in the way the ex-Mormon community and this letter are unfairly demanding. How might we find a happier medium? But this will have to be a topic for a future post, I’m afraid. But in principle, I can at least agree ‘more should be done.’

  • They claim that when they bring up such issues to believing family members the fact that the essays are hard to find and not marked as doctrine makes it difficult for the believing family members to “trust family members [i.e. those on this letter] who may share it with them.”

This is a toughie for me to believe at all. Here’s an idea, go get the official essay off the website, point out that it’s on the official website, and have the family member read it. This just doesn’t sound that difficult to me. I do it all the time.

Excitement Over Sharing Anguish?

  • The letter claims that when “we [the letter authors and signers] learn something new that we are excited to share with our families…”

It seems on the surface that we have a contradiction here. A moment ago the letter was claiming that finding such material was shocking and brought them anguish. Now they are claiming that when they found such material they were ‘excited’ to share it with their families. Are they excited because they are hoping their family members will be in as much anguish as they were?

But this is not a contradiction, is it? We see this very scenario play out in real life all the time, don’t we? It just we’re talking about two very different timeframes and therefore two mindsets.

We have now encountered the definitive example of where this letter can only be read coherently if we assume it’s taking a wholly non-believing point of view.

So here is the scenario they seem to be actually talking about. The letter authors and signers are at one point faithful members and believers. They find material that causes them to lose their faith and stop believing. This, of course, is very painful because losing one’s faith is extremely painful. This is the point at which they are ‘shocked’ and filled with anguish.

But then after that they become non-believers start to encourage their family members to disbelieve or leave the Church. So they go and find various articles attacking LDS beliefs and go show it to family members. They are ‘excited’ because they are hoping this will cause their family members to lose their faith as well and leave the Church. And what happens with they do this?

  • The letter claims that when they attempt to share information about the mentioned issues that “we are often met with suspicion and distrust, leading to discord, contention, and unhappiness in our relationships.”

Now honestly, this makes me sad. I hate to see any family relationships turn to discord, contention, and unhappiness. And I have no doubt that if these letter authors and signers are running to their family members trying to share information to disprove their family member’s cherished religious beliefs that this will result in exactly what they say happens.

But I do have to wonder at the letter writer’s biased view here. Why is this solely a problem for the believing family member to fix the problem? I honesty do not understand this. It seems to me that excitedly running to your believing family members and sharing material that you once found ‘shocking’ and created great ‘anguish’ for you probably isn’t the best way to avoid suspicion, distrust, contention, discord, and unhappiness in your family relationships. And I think maybe this is more than a little obvious.

Now maybe this isn’t the experience of every single author or signatory on this letter, but it is telling that the letter included this very scenario as one of it’s main complaints but tries to paper over it by collapsing the timeframes — thereby leaving a seeming contradiction between excitement and anguish. Yet the letter does nothing whatsoever to try to suggest more productive ways to fix family relationships through encouraging change within their own community. The sole emphasis is on how the believing Mormon community needs to change.

I hope to make my own productive suggestions in a future post. But for now let’s just say that this is a two way street and the letter writers are rather unfairly not taking any responsibility for themselves.

  • The letter writers continue to explain the damage they feel is caused by the Church not being upfront with the issues that they get into arguments with their family members over. They cite that they are often labeled as “angry, offended, and sinful.” They feel the Church makes people that leave the church – which they see as entirely legitimate given the known issues – as “greedy, evil, haughty, scheming, careless, fallen.” They feel this ruins relationships, ends marriages, or causes loss of employment.

Again, my heart is rent over this. I do not doubt that all of the above does result from one side of the family become anti-Mormons and the other side being believers. I’ve seen this happen myself. It’s an awful thing.

But again, the letter writers are placing the full responsibility for this on the believing members of the family and the Church itself. This is so completely unfair that it is, itself, heart wrenching because it means this letter is adding to the problem rather than addressing it. Again, this is a topic too big for this post and I’ll address it in a future post in more detail.

The Post-Belief-Mormon Community’s Demands on the LDS Church

The letter writers now make a series of specific demands of the Church:

  • The Church needs to advertise their essays on the issues more
  • The essays need to be translated to other languages so the whole international Mormon community is aware of their issues
  • The Church needs to specify what is or isn’t officially the position of the church
  • As already quoted, the issues need to be addressed in correlated materials so that they are discussed in Sunday School lessons, missionary lessons, etc.
  • The Church needs to include lessons specifically on how to deal with mixed faith situations better.
  • The Church needs to not vilify people that in their view legitimately leave the Church.
  • The Church needs to be equally transparent with it finances.
  • The Church needs to allow both civil marriage ceremonies and temple ceremonies so that non-believing family members can attend marriages.

Wow! That’s quite the list. Much of it is just a summary of what was already previously stated throughout the letter. But we have a few new ones that appear, the demand for financial transparency for example.

Transparency in Church Finances

I think this one is a sticky issue. I can see why the Church feels it can’t make its finances transparent and it’s precisely the same reason why the ex-Mormon community is demanding they do.

What are the odds that a diverse group such as the Church isn’t going to offend a whole lot of people no matter what they do with the tithes?

When I was on my mission in Detroit there was a man that wanted his tithes back because he saw the missionaries driving Japanese cars. The Church then made a policy to not use Japanese cars in an area like Detroit to avoid offending people.

Now this is an unrealistic demand of this man, to be sure. But people are full of such unrealism. (As this letter itself proves.) But it should be clear that if finances are too ‘transparent’ that someone is going to be offended either way. This man in Detroit will want all American made cars and someone equivalent in Japan will want all Japanese made cars. The Church simply can’t win.

The letter takes the stance that other non-profits have no problem with being transparent with their finances (I have no reason to believe or disbelieve this claim). But then I doubt there are many other sprawling but centralized non-profit religious organizations out there at all comparable to the LDS Church. So there probably aren’t many non-profits that would face these sorts of issues. If the American Lung Association releases their finances, there is basically no chance that someone is going to get mad about how the finances were spent. But if the LDS church does there is basically no chance that people won’t get mad no matter how it was spent.

The ex-Mormon community knows this. That is why they call for financial transparency. Now think about this for a moment. Why else would they be calling for it other than to try to win their war against the Church? They don’t pay tithing anymore! It’s not their money! So of course the reason they keep calling for financial transparency is solely to try to cause contention within the Church over a literally insolvable problem. The ex-Mormon community has no grounds at all for making this demand.

Now I will grant that there are others in the Church that do pay tithing that are also demanding financial transparency. And here I’m at least a bit more understanding given that they are paying tithing. But I guess I would ask the those demanding financial transparency to at least acknowledge the difficult thorny issues that the Church faces here. If they are believers – and many are – can’t they at least acknowledge the problem? Can’t they at least admit that they are demanding something of the church that is really popular amongst ex-Mormons precisely because it’s unsolvable problem? Can they maybe even offer some better and more realistic alternatives rather than simply making impossible demands?

Why You Should Offer Solutions Rather than Merely Murmuring

This last question is particularly important. I am always an advocate of people offering counter solutions for criticism. It is all too easy to just complain about a problem. It’s always much harder to find a solution everyone will feel comfortable with. Offering up a solution forces a person to come to grips with the true difficulties being faced by the LDS Church. So I am a strong advocate for the liberal and libertarian tithe paying Mormons that have recently pushed this issue to first offer up counter solutions for criticism.

Temple Marriages

Perhaps an even thornier issues is that of temple marriages. It is truly offensive to many non-members to have their family members choose a temple marriage because then the non-member family members don’t get to see the wedding. Let’s be honest with ourselves on this issue. Imagine some mother that has spent her life looking forward to her daughter’s wedding and the daughter converts and chooses a temple marriage. It is not a pretty picture, so I acknowledge the legitimacy of the problem here.

But again, the letter writers are being more than a bit unfair. The Dehlin-sphere has long claimed that the only thing that the Church needs to do to fix this is allow for the marriage ceremony to be civil one day and the next you go and solemnize it in the temple. Problem sovled, right?

But John Dehlin rarely does his homework on issues like this. The fact is the Church historically did do it that way. And the end result was that fewer people took temple marriages seriously. It was common – including notables like Spencer W. Kimball – to simply get married outside the temple and then, when convenient, solemnized it later. So this practice really didn’t emphasize the true importance the LDS Church places on Temple Marriages.

I am not, in this post, going to try to address this sticky issue. I am merely pointing out that the letter writers and the John Dehlin-sphere are ignoring facts when they make these demands.

Further, as non-believers, I would hardly expect them to be sympathetic to the need to have a doctrinal emphasis on Temple Marriages. How many ex-Mormons really are open minded enough about the importance of religion in general to say “oh, you’re right, I can see why this might be an important practice for the church to get its doctrinal message across.”

In short, we have a conflict of interests here when the non-believing letter writers make this demand. If the Church implements their suggestion and it waters down the doctrines of the Church, they end up with a double win! So of course they are going to be in favor of the Church making this change.

Summary

I have, throughout this post, taken the open letter to President Monson and done my best to briefly explain why it has to be seen as specifically coming from a non-believing point of view. I have offered some brief counter criticisms of the basic charges and criticism it makes, though I also agreed with many of their points.

I do not deny the difficulties that they are present, I simply believe they are being wholly unfair in how they are choosing to lay the full blame and all demands for change on behalf of the LDS Church and take no responsibility for change within their own community of ex-Mormons and practicing-but-not-believing Mormons.

I feel more dialogue is needed here. Their community has certainly been effective at getting their message out. The original Tom Phillips incident hit national news despite being universally panned as an inappropriate law suit. There is no lack of pulpit for the ex-Mormon community to shout from. But has it ever occurred to them that this might come across as more than just a little threatening to the believing Mormon community? Has it ever occurred to them that it might therefore exacerbate the very problems they claim they want to solve? Letters like this are not really an attempt to address these issues, they are an attempt to win a war of minds and hearts and the believing members of the Church know this.

I feel there needs to be more demands being placed back on the ex-Mormon and practicing-but-not-believing Mormon communities. I know that the vast majority of believing members of the Church do want good relationships with their non-believing family members. But I also know that both sides want the other side to covert to what they see as the correct moral worldview.

I believe this letter largely represents a one-sided and non-believing view that attempts to advance its goals against the health of the Church on a mistaken belief that added ‘transparency’ equates to offering Sunday School lessons where the Church aggressively makes all difficulties and potential difficulties in of its beliefs available so that people can ‘make an informed decision.’ And I also know that this is an utterly unfair demand that no organization in existence will ever be able to comply with.

I call upon the ex-Mormon and practicing-but-not-believing Mormon communities to denounce these sorts of tactics. I call upon those that truly care about the relationships of families to admit that considerably more needs to be done in their own community first before they are ready to start demanding changes within the believing Mormon community. I do believe we can fix these problems, but I do not believe this letter seriously attempts to do so.

Notes

[1] Priesthood roles in the early church. I particularly enjoyed this one because I suspect its a reference to the false claim that the early Church gave women the priesthood. Unfortunately scholarship has undermined this claim. We have now exhausted this particular issue.

 

65 thoughts on “The “Open Letter” to the Prophet of the Mormon Church

  1. ” It is truly offensive to non-members to have their family members choose a temple marriage because then the non-member family members don’t get to see the wedding.”

    There was a man in my ward growing up, who admired that the Church would take such a stand on temple marriage even if it meant he couldn’t attend his daughter’s ceremony. He was baptized a few months later.

  2. Bruce, thanks for taking the time to write all of this out. I have issue with any sort of “open letter” on most subjects. Open letters do not seek to solve problems, but rather serve to stir up controversy and contention. If the people that signed their names to this open letter were serious they would have also signed their last names as well. But in the end, if people are really having issue with all of these things, wouldn’t the better course of action be to meet privately with a bishop or a stake president and resolve them that way? Like you said, this is just more circus for those that seek to do harm to the church.

  3. John Taber,

    You make a good point. I was sloppy in my wording. (I honestly scrutinize my language for things like this but they *always* slip through anyhow.)

    I am going to change that line to better accomodate what you’ve said. It is absolutely true that some non-members do agree with the stance the Mormons take here based on apply their own principles fairly over to Mormons.

  4. You write:

    But John Dehlin rarely does his homework on issues like this. The fact is the Church historically did do it that way. And the end result was that no one took temple marriages seriously. Everyone – including notables like Spencer W. Kimball – simply got married outside the temple and then, when convenient, solemnized it later. So this practice really didn’t emphasize the true importance the LDS Church places on Temple Marriages.

    I’m not sure that the evidence supports your conclusion that “no one took temple marriages seriously.” And, your statement that Pres. Kimball married outside the temple and then had his marriage solemnized in the temple “when convenient” trivializes the challenges facing the saints in remote areas, such as the Gila River Valley, who desired to marry in the temple.

    Getting to the temple was not simply a matter of jumping in the family car and driving a few hours to a nearby temple. Instead, it could be a journey of several days, often by wagon to the nearest railroad, and thence by train to a town with a temple. And an unmarried couple could not have made that journey unaccompanied. So, what could a poor couple do? Get married by the local bishop, and then make the trip to a temple to be sealed. That doesn’t mean that they devalued temple marriages.

  5. Mark B.

    Fair point. I will soften my language to better reflect that point.

    Yet the church still changed this precisely because they felt people weren’t taking it seriously enough and there *was* considerable improvment afterwards.

    Perhaps the time was right to make such a change given more modern means of travel.

  6. Excellent analysis, Bruce. Regarding the issue of addressing difficult topics in Sunday School, the church just released a new Doctrine and Covenants and Church History manual that does go out if its way to mention some of these issues and directs students to the recent articles on LDS.org. This seems to be a welcome step toward inoculation. But it clearly won’t satisfy those who are looking to undermine faith.

    See: http://blog.fairmormon.org/2014/02/05/a-new-church-history-seminary-manual/

  7. My ever-cynical impression is that reading your review of the letter was a much better use of my entertainment time than looking for the letter itself. :-)

  8. Thanks for your write-up. I think the original letter and the lawsuit are pretty silly. But I also think they are both just one more drop in the bucket of a long lived effort to hurt the work of the Church in spreading the Gospel message. As such they don’t surprise me in any way. I think no amount of dialogue, transparency, or openness would ever bridge the gap between the Church (institution or members) and the anti, dis-believing, former Mormons, etc. forces. It is a wasted effort to some degree. However, I do think the church could make some adjustment to its explanations and practices to make life a bit better for its *members*.

    Regarding the marriage issue, I think one possible approach would be for the Church to offer three options – or adopt an entirely different approach to the marriage/sealing issue – listed as number four below:
    Retaining the same legal approach that the Church current uses for marriages/sealings a couple could choose any of the first three options when contemplating getting married/sealed.
    1. Be both married and sealed in the temple in one visit. (What happens in much of the world today.)
    2. Allow for a civil ceremony first, but require the temple sealing to be done the same day (a time sensitive recommend would be issued and proof of the civil ceremony having been performed that same day would be required for temple admittance. (Or within whatever period of time the Temple President specified for a given stake in the temple district – to accommodate areas of the Church where travel to a temple still requires more than a day.)
    3. Enforce the year long ban on temple sealings following a civil marriage for all civil marriages not utilizing option two.
    Or switching gears significantly the following four approach might solve a number of problems.
    4. the Church could get out of the marriage business entirely and *only* offer members temple sealings. Perform the ordinances only for members who are both already civilly/legally married *and* who are temple worthy. (This has the added benefit of “solving” the legal issue of whether the Church can refuse to perform marriages it does not approve of – under this option the Church would no longer perform *any* marriages.)

    Just some suggestions.

  9. Wow, you have just described my sister to a T!

    I’ve had atheist siblings for most of my life, but we got along fine until my sister became practicing-but-not-believing. She is very vocal about it and has lots of unkind things to say about those of us who are believers. I’m glad my husbands family is strong and faithful, because mine is an absolute mess!

  10. John Swensosn Harvey,

    I personally am not prepared to endorse any particular proposal. Having said that, I confess that this is the very FIRST time I’ve actually seen someone come up with a proposal that makes a sincere effort to consider both points of view. This along impresses me John.

  11. Alissa,

    Thanks for the comment. Can you please clarify something? If I understand you correctly you have had non-member atheist siblings all your life but this caused no contention in your family. But then you had a member sister leave the church (or at least stop believing in it) and this caused her to become what I call a “Rejectionist” who now couldn’t stop being vocal in an apparent need to obsessively focus on rejecting her former religion. This, in turn, did cause contention within the family for the first time.

    Is that what you meant to say? Or am I misunderstanding?

  12. John Swensosn Harvey,

    I actually talked about number 4 in another post here, and there seemed to be significant support it was the best political choice. The difference between my stance and yours for this is that the members should reject government sanctioning of the marriage; especially since living together is not against the law.

  13. Bruce,

    Excellent job in breaking down the issues and peeling back the layers to examine the underlying mechanisms of such movements/demands and leading us to the correct conclusion of what they’re outcomes must likely mean. Well said and well put.

    John Swenson….I LOVE your proposal/approach on marriage!

  14. I find it unfortunate that so few see the value of the Church issuing state marriage licenses. Like with anything, there would be a definite cost to “getting out” altogether. I think it is entirely worth the fight to the bitter end, even if the bitter end eventually becomes getting out by necessity. I certainly don’t find it an ideal.

  15. SR,

    Tracy and I have been discussing this issue offline. She likes option 4 because she sees it as inevitable. The government is going to come try to force all religions to accept gay marriage, so we might as well get out of the marriage business now.

    My point of view is that this is where I draw the line. If this is giong to be a war, I want the war and I want to win it. I advocate fighting. We are talking about the most basic religious freedoms at this point. If our nation actually did get to the point where the govenement was threatening violence (that is what governments are… legal use of violence) if we don’t change our doctrines to be acceptable to them, then there is no religious freedom in this country and it is honestly time for civil disobedience, martyrdom, etc. to win it back.

    Now I should probably note that as of today, the govenement really hasn’t shown any signs yet of wanting or intending to do anything like this. So perhaps this isn’t at all inevitable that a fight will even be necessary.

    Yet despite this, I do note that both sides of the aisle are increasingly acting like its inevitable. Those on the left (of those that see it as inevitable — most don’t) looking forward to it and those on the right scared.

    The very fact that we are scared is a very bad sign that we’ve already crossed a line in some way. (I can tell you in what way, but that’s a dicussion for another time.)

    Frankly, it should be a foregone conclusion that there is no possiblity whatsoever that the govenement is going to try to force certain religious beliefs. And the left should be defending that point of view vigorously.

    On the positive side, I have seen those on the left state that they would defend the Church’s right to hold whatever religious beliefs it wants free from any sort of government pressure. Nick Literski once said he might be willing to even march with Mormons over such an issue. So this is not a unanimous liberal viewpoint at this time. So we should keep some perspective.

  16. To be honest, that is part of what frightens *me.* People are talking about protecting religions, but protecting religious people isn’t even on the table.

    If anything, the mere suggestion that people ought to be allowed to conduct such business according to their conscience is met with immediate derision, even by those who purport to support religions’ right to exercise according to those same principles.

    Increasingly, God is becoming an invalid reason to act. Many rejoice at that, but most (even those who claim faith of their own) are preaching that faith is something that is a feeling, a theory, but never to be acted on publicly. Hence, the argument that the Church ought to disengage entirely from legal marriage. To me, this is an eminent example of the real problem.

  17. “I find it unfortunate that so few see the value of the Church issuing state marriage licenses.”

    When the government has made marriage a joke, then there isn’t a reason to be part of the comedy of errors. That includes, by the way, no fault divorces as part of the problem.

    All of this a tangent to the main post.

  18. “If our nation actually did get to the point where the govenement was threatening violence (that is what governments are… legal use of violence) if we don’t change our doctrines to be acceptable to them, then there is no religious freedom in this country and it is honestly time for civil disobedience, martyrdom, etc. to win it back.”

    Bruce N, it appears I have been having some positive effect on you. :)

  19. Bruce, man, oh man, what a great post! I thoroughly enjoy this review of the letter so much, I don’t even feel the need or curiosity to read the actual letter. Let me say, I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. I can’t wait for your developing some of the points left out for later posts.

    John Swenson, love those proposals. Lot of thought put into them.

  20. I’d like to see the left try to force the Muslims to marry homosexuals in their mosques. And I’d like to see the Muslims’ response, too. ;-)

  21. The court warrant makes me wonder how the prophet should respond considering we believing in honoring the laws of the land. I would assume the church would not excuse a member from turning in court if a warrant was issued.

  22. Back during the blow-up with FPR, JMax, in an unofficlal statement about comment policies at M*, said: “If the comment is aggressive, accusatory, sarcastic, insincere, or implies bad faith on the part if the post author then it may not be approved” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2014/01/yes-m-is-a-child-sacrificing-misogynist-and-racist-bigot-blog/#comment-1187145416). While I realize that that’s not in your official comment policy, but if it is an informal approach you all take, then perhaps you should grant the author of the open letter the same courtesy that his or her arguments be considered as if they were made in good faith.

  23. Abu Casey, when something is absolutely obvious that it wasn’t in good faith then there is no need for consideration of the motive. Sometimes a spade is just a spade. Obviously you haven’t read M* because these particular types have been argued against repeatedly here.

  24. As someone whose life was quite literally saved by no-fault divorce, I have to say that I don’t find it funny.

    I’m pretty sure the OP did a thorough job of giving the letter the benefit of the doubt, reading the letter and examining it point by point. It is not aggressive or accusatory. Simply observational. A far cry from the referenced lack of charity.

  25. RE: Option 4. Technically, the church is not in the marriage business. At least in the US, all marriages performed by a priesthood holder are done because the state has a law that allows religious representatives to act on behalf of the state to officiate a ceremony. If those statutes were repealed tomorrow, religious representatives would no longer be able to perform state recognized marriages. I believe eventually we’ll be given a choice: either perform SSM or forfeit our ability to represent the state. When that happens couples will have to get married by civil authority first followed by a temple sealing, like most of Europe.

  26. Abu Casey says: “perhaps you should grant the author of the open letter the same courtesy that his or her arguments be considered as if they were made in good faith.”

    Abu Casey, I totally disagree with Jetboy on this. I am completely perplex on how I didn’t consider their arguments as if made in good faith. That’s precisely what I did. I carefully read the letter, thought about what they had to say, made notes about what I agreed with and disagreed, made notes about what I felt they said was helpful and what I felt they said was hurtful or counter productive. Then I wrote about all of it, taking it in absolute good faith that it wasn’t a joke and that it was intended to be taken as seriously as I was taking it. If it was NOT intended in good faith, then frankly the joke is on me because I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

    To be frank, Abu, I think you have made the grave mistake of thinking that unless I agreed with the letter or found it to be solely productive that that meant I was not taking it in good faith. I challenge your understanding of what “good faith” means and ask you to reconsider it because your definition of “good faith” eliminates all possibility of dialogue or discussion of differeing viewpoints. I would ask instead that you not assume that just because I disagree with something that that somehow means I’m not responding in “good faith.”

  27. Abu,

    Upon further reflection, it occurs to me that I might be misunderstanding what you are saying. I suppose I do see a difference between how the term “good faith” is used if we are refering to the “good faith” of the letter itself vs. the proposals in the letter.

    When I apply the term “good faith” in my mind towards the intent of the letter itself, it means to me that the people writing it were serious and not joking. So I certainly think the letter itself is written in good faith in this sense.

    But when it comes to the proposals in the letter, I tend to think of a proposal as “good faith” only if the proposal is truly faith. So while I didn’t use the term “good faith” myself, I can see that I am in fact — in some sense — accusing the letter writers of making some “bad faith” proposals because they are (it seems to me) trying to stick the entire responsiblity on the believing Mormon community and take no responsiblity for themselves in their proposals.

    If you disagree with me on this, then what I can say is that I’ve done my very best to outline why based on my carefully reading of the letter and based on my past experiences why I do not see their porposals as fair or realistic. I hope you can see that I’m entitled to my opinion on this and that there is really no sense in which I can “assume the proposal are made in good faith” if in fact I feel they are not fair proposals. I will certainly consider the proposals as serious and I’m even willing to assume that the letter writers, from within their own extremely biased worldview, honestly but mistakenly thought they were making a fair proposal. I think I can see their proposals as “good faith” in at least this limited sense.

  28. Bruce,
    It’s a process to move from believer to non-believer, it takes time. These people were once your brothers and sisters in faith sitting on the same pew observing and worshiping with you but now they are enemy??? Why?

    I don’t know Tom Phillips nor am I his apologist but having read his history it seems he was once every bit the believer that you currently are Bruce and he has held callings consistent with that belief, so what drives this uncharitable ad hominem against the authors of this letter? The content is in your opinion to be disqualified because it was not written from the perspective of a current believer? It’s written from the perspective of someone much more experienced in this than you! Someone who once believed as you but lost their testimony due to a betrayal and they are warning against future betrayals. Are you so prideful that you don’t believe such a thing could ever happen to you or others and that there could be no value or sincerity in the letter’s content ?

  29. Howard,

    Seriously my friend, I want to take what you are saying seriously. Because I think your view expressed is just oh so common. The fact that I’m about to disagree with you and criticize you is NOT a show that I am not taking you seriously, but a show that I take you DEAD serioiusly.

    Do you realize how many assumptions about me you just made in your comment? Let’s count them and I’ll set the record straight on them:

    “These people were once your brothers and sisters in faith sitting on the same pew observing and worshiping with you but now they are enemy?”

    I don’t consider these people my enemies. You are equating the fact that I see the letter as taking a non-believing view point as *equivalent* to calling them an enemy. Seriously, why? That doesn’t even make sense to me.

    “so what drives this uncharitable ad hominem against the authors of this letter?”

    You seem to be assuming that disagreement is by default uncharitable. Tell you what, I’d like for you to take some time to think about how I could have gone about expressing my honest disagreements in a more charitable way than I did. I suppose one think you might be tempted to say is that I should be assuming they are non-believers. But I didn’t assume that, I left open the possiblity (with heavy but appropriate criticism) that perhaps many are believers that mistakenly signed on to a letter that really does come across as written from a non-believing viewpoint. I carefully explain why it comes across that way. I do not see how this is uncharitable. And frankly, the idea we can’t read between the lines and seek possible hidden motives is just blatantly wrong. You’re doing it to me right now? I am offering correction, but the idea that the mere fact that you are making leaps on what you think my hidden motives are is NOT a reason for me to assume you are being uncharitable or calling me an enemy. I feel you are doing neither. We are merely disagreeing.

    “The content is in your opinion to be disqualified because it was not written from the perspective of a current believer? It’s written from the perspective of someone much more experienced in this than you! Someone who once believed as you but lost their testimony due to a betrayal and they are warning against future betrayals”

    And there we have it!! You too are assuming it’s written from a non-believing view point! So apparently you even agree with me on this!!! Yet when I say it, you assume it’s being uncharitable and calling them an enemy and when you say it you don’t assume that. How does that happen?

    Oh, and let’s be honest with ourselves. You specifically use the word “betrayal” which *is* an accusation only lobbed at an enemy, and a rather unchariable one at that. Has it maybe not occured to you that Mormons sincerely believe their beliefs and that therefore there is no betrayal at all? (Though perhaps they are delusional or misguided, but certainly no betrayal.)

    “Are you so prideful that you don’t believe such a thing could ever happen to you or others and that there could be no value or sincerity in the letter’s content ?”

    And while we are at it, why, exactly are you assuming I’ve never lost my faith in the LDS church? Maybe you should research me a bit better.

  30. You seem to be assuming that disagreement is by default uncharitable. No. I see your “they are non-believers” ad hominem as uncharitable and evidence of an us/them perspective on your part which your are obviously selling to your audience. Enemy being perhaps a too strong characterization of that obvious us/them attitude.

    You too are assuming it’s written from a non-believing view point! So apparently you even agree with me on this!!! Yet when I say it, you assume it’s being uncharitable and calling them an enemy and when you say it you don’t assume that. How does that happen? Consider how may column inches you devoted this point at the beginning of your article, obviously making it a main point and a main (ad hominem) discount to the letter’s content with deserves consideration independent of your ad hominem.

    I used “betrayal” because that is the feeling experienced by these people!!! Interesting that you do not know this! I did not use it to position my argument.

  31. Howard,

    I would point out that you again take the very us/them attitude you claim I take. It seems likely that it would be impossible to have this conversation in the first place if we didn’t admit that there is a believer/non-believer divide on issues like this. You know it and you stated it in a way that shows you do. But when I do it it becomes an ad hominem attack that is uncharitable and pointing at them as enemies. I would suggest that maybe this inconsistency is itself a problem.

    That they people feel betrayed, I have no doubt. That they were not betrayed (unless you want to redefine betrayal to include a person sincerely trying to do what they honestly feel is best for someone — which I am sure is also true of the letter writers) is also not in doubt in my mind. It shouldn’t be in doubt in your mind either. Is it?

    But that’s the problem, Howard. I *feel* things too, just like they do, just like you do. I *feel* this letter is counterproductive in oh so many ways. I *feel* that you are being inconsistent with me and trying to hold me to a standard you aren’t holding yourself to. I also *feel* that we won’t make progress without these types of conversations, including conflict and arguing like this, so I do in fact appreciate your comments even though I disagree with them. And I *feel* that a non-believer isn’t an enemy. I even *feel* the letter authors are not enemies, but just a sincere people that has made a mistake.

    I also think you need to probably understand what an actual ad hominem attack is. I mean I get your view point, you are assuming that if I point out that this letter takes a non-believing view point (does it really matter how many inches I spent making my case so long as it was a needed case?) that by definition I’m trying to scare people away from the letter by labeling them as enemies because non-believer = enemy. If I was doing that, I suppose it would be an ad hominem attack. But seriously, since we both agree it’s written from a non-believing point of view, I’m a little puzzled why you keep insisting that this is the only possible motivation on my part.

    I don’t intend to have a protracted argument with you over this Howard. It is clear to me that we’ve stated our differing starting assumptions. So long as you are starting with the assumption that my evidence that this letter takes a non-believing view point (even though you believe that too) is exactly equivalent to trying to call them enemies and scare people away from them, then I can certainly see why you are going to continue to believe I actually did make an ad hominem attack and I can certainly see why you are going to forever go on accusing me of bad faith motivations. And I’m guessing there is nothing whatsoever I can actually say to convince you otherwise. And it seems I can’t even convince you that there isn’t a better way to go about discussing our disagreements over this. Truthfully, I feel your choice to impute to me bad motivations is really just a way to avoid having an inconvenient conversation that you’d rather avoid. It think it’s pretty much equivalent to when believing Mormon refuses to even discuss issues by calling someone an apostate, just reversed.

    So I’m going to go ahead and leave you the last word. Unless you say something new beyond what you’ve already said, I will feel that I’ve already sufficiently explained the problems with your position and why I feel you are really just attempting to shut down productive conversation. But we can freely agree to disagree over that. And I still respect that you at least had the courage to express your view and did so without merely resorting to name calling without even attempting to explain yourself.

  32. Bruce wrote: accusing me of bad faith motivations…your choice to impute to me bad motivations… I don’t know what your motivations were, your motivations may have been subconscious rather than conscious but you article strongly promotes an us/them attitude, don’t listen to them because they aren’t believers like us. This is a common Mormon circle the wagons approach to defense but it is far from charitable often tearing families apart in the process.

  33. Howard, I am going to say one more thing.

    So when it comes right down to it, we both have a beef with each other. Yours is that you feel I’m intentionally trying to create the impression the letter writers are enemies and that therefore my real motivation is to scare people away from the evil apostates.

    My beef with you is that it honestly seem to me that if I take your point of view seriously that there is no way whatsoever in which I can take my honest concerns with this letter and express them at all. Yes, I honestly feel this letter was unproductive and maybe even destructive. I explain in detail why I feel that way. YES, the only way I could come up with to explain my point of view was to point out what is patently obvious even to YOU! That this letter was written from a non-believing view point and makes certain assumptions — false assumptions in my opinion — about the level of responsibility that the “TBM” community needs to be held to.

    I suspect that honestly in your heart you feel you aren’t saying that. So I am going to offer a challenge to you. Please take the time to offer up to me how I could have expressed my concerns in some way you would have found acceptable. But it MUST still express my honest concerns without watering them down or obscuring them. I personally believe you can’t, but I migh tbe wrong.

  34. Do you actually share the once a believer now a nonbeliever experience and perspective? If so briefly contrast and compare it with your current perspective, it’s a wonderful teaching opportunity and then move on to the content on the letter.

    But given your lack of understanding of the feeling these people experience of betrayal, I doubt you have actually shared their experience in some meaningful way so why not allow that they have been through something you know little about but are still your brothers and sisters? Or do you believe Christ would share your othering of them?

  35. Howard,

    If I only criticize you I fear it will come across like I don’t appreciate that you are taking the time to give feedback and argue another point of view. So I really don’t want to make that mistake because I do appreciate what you are saying, even as I often disagree with hit.

    Let me take one particular example of something you say I can really relate to and appreciate:

    “your motivations may have been subconscious rather than conscious but you article strongly promotes an us/them attitude”

    You know, I’m just not one to deny that all human beings – including myself – have constant subconscious motives. That means, but definition, we aren’t consciously aware of our motives. What makes this a particularly perplexing problem is that those motives *we aren’t aware of* are almost always the most important ones. That is precisely why human beings have a tendency to do a ‘read through’ on motivations and to assume there are deeper motivations than what is being state. I think that is precisely why I am not offended by you imputing to me motives that I’m not so sure I have.

    So let me be honest with myself, it is at least a possibility that I do have a fully subconscious motive to make sure I label these people a non-believers precisely so that I will marginalize their views? Well, you know what? I can’t possibly deny that possibility if we’re talking about subconscious motives. What I can say is that I’ve put some real effort into not doing that.

    At some level there is a difference of opinion here that you are not yet getting. It’s this: I fully reject the idea that it’s possible to have a dialogue about how to improve things if we don’t accept that there are such things as believers and non-believers and that this division matters and in fact matters more than just about anything else we can talk about. Believers absolute have different goals and motivations with the LDS church than do non-believers regardless of whether we’re talking about active ones or ex ones.

    So I positively ‘consciously’ reject the idea that non-believer = enemy = scare tactic. Instead I am pushing for the idea that the believer/non-believer split can be discussed without it devolving into an us/them mentality. I think believers can come together with non-believers and we can honestly work out issues by both sides taking greater responsibility for themselves.

    Does that mean I don’t have some subconscious motive to do *just that* and to create a scare tactic? Well, honestly I don’t know for sure. How could I? It’s a subconscious motive we’re talking about. So, sure, why not.
    My conscious motive is very simple: I think the standard way I’ve seen this problem addressed by both the Bloggernacle (believing side) and ex-Mormon side has been pretty dismal and unproductive because people try to remove the most import parts of the dialogue on the grounds that it will create an us/them mentality.

    I want to change that. I want to force both communities to stop avoiding the rather obvious fact that beliers and non-believers exist and that this matters and it in fact matters the most because it’s impossible to understand people’s real intents without taking this into consideration.

    But might this conscious motive in fact also be motivated in part by a desire to create an us/them to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt about them. Maybe that is the case. I do not deny this possibility.

    But what is it that you are then asking me to do, Howard? I will not stop believing that my conscious motive matters, even if you were to convince me that it’s partially a bad motive on the subconscious side. I will simply make more effort to try to emphasize the good conscious motive and remove the bad subconscious one.

    Further, Howard, honestly I’d be more accepting of what you were saying if you were just practicing what you are preaching. Isn’t it obvious that this all applies to you too? Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that I have absolutely no questionable subconscious motives. I am (for the sake of argument) purely motivated by compassion and love with no desire whatsoever to create any sort of us/them. (Yeah, I know, when I put it that way even I have a hard time believing it.) It is obvious to me that even if that were the case you’d still be accusing me of exactly what you are accusing me of. Why? Because you have subconscious motives too! A person that has gone through those feelings of betrayal to the point where they understand them probably isn’t in the best position to be judging the subconscious motives of someone that disagrees with them. On this matter. Why can’t you see that?

    So I’d recommend you stop taking that approach. It’s not going to work. I’d recommend you do a little internal inspection for the moment. Why did you come out swinging on this? Is it *really* just because my post was all an obvious ad hominem attack and I said nothing else worth of note? (You mention nothing else I say as worthy of note.)

    What about the idea I express that this letter has been positioned both in wording, in timing, and through its jumping off point in such a way that it comes across as positively threatening to believers? Isn’t that something you might be able to say “well, I don’t like what I think your motives really are, but I can see that you’re obviously right about this. Their approach was horrible.”

    Or how about the fact that I showed considerable sympathy on some of their issues (did you even notice that? You sure haven’t expressed it). Why didn’t you come out saying “Well, I can appreciate, Bruce, that you really get it why the Temple Marriage issues are problematic.”

    Or how about the fact that I express concern over several issues with the letter that honestly seem pretty legitimate, such as the fact that it so strongly smacks of very common an unrealistic view that the Church has some sort of moral duty to bring up all arguments against it ‘so that people can make an informed choice?’ Surely you’ve been around long enough to know people really do express this view point and that this letter really does get too close for comfort to that view point.

    In other words, I would encourage you to follow your own advice on everything you say to me rather than trying to psycho analyze me.

    As for my own falling away, I was a JeffG style apostate. That is to say, I immediately realized no one had betrayed me. I merely thought they were all delusional. I honestly could not see how I could feel betrayed by the delusional. So, no, that aspect you are referring to is not something I have experienced.

    But that’s precisely the issue here. My point of view *is valid for the ex-Mo community precisely because I understood that the feelings of betrayal they experience are false.* That is why I have something important to say to them and frankly why if they will dialogue with me I can actually provide workable solutions to their problems by helping that community learn to do away with the false feelings of betrayal that lead to unrealistic expectations such as expecting the Church to ‘come clean’ about ‘all the problems’ that exist.

    Howard, if you can’t find some merrit in my post at all — and so far you’ve had nothing positive to say — then at least follow my previous request and suggest ways in which I could still be honest to my message but have said it in a nicer way.

    I can appreciate the idea that perhaps I should have spent more time on trying to express why they feel such strong feelings of betrayal (even though I’ve never felt them myself. I can at least do my best to channel those feelings.) And I think you’re probably right that this would ahve improved the post if I had spent more time on this then I already did.

  36. I think the letter writers are disingenuous. They are trying to foster _dis_belief among believers by their demands/suggestions.

    The schtick of “trying to keep people in the church even though they don’t believe” is their cover-story.

    And there is a disconnect between demanding that the church inocculate youth/investigators with apologetic information and the fact that these “concerned members” have not themselves been persuaded to believe again after reading all the apologetic responses.

    They are missing one of the big points of the church: Faith is not generated by apologetic argument. Dan Peterson and others have well made the point that apologetic defense is needed, but at best it merely creates room for faith.

  37. Okay Bruce, I see that you are sincerely reaching out. There is much to your comment but I’d like to begin with something you feel is highly important:

    I fully reject the idea that it’s possible to have a dialogue about how to improve things if we don’t accept that there are such things as believers and non-believers and that this division matters and in fact matters more than just about anything else we can talk about.

    I disagree that dialog is impossible without this but I will accept your premise for the purpose of this comment.

    There are “believers” who as the BoM play song says “just believe” and believers who have paid a dear price for their belief and have a conversion story to tell for it. While there is a profound difference between between the first “believer” and the second that distinction seems unimportant to you, why? Probably because you identify them as “us” and they identify you as “us”. Together you form a tribe and a tribe implies a us/them mentality, does it not?

    So consider there is a continuum that might actually look something like this; never members > investigators > “believer” > doubting > disaffected > inactive >exmo > believer. Somewhere along this continuum even at the exmo stage a conversion story may be lurking for someone who is currently unhappy with the church to become a believer instead of the “believer” they once were. In other words their journey through disaffection and even out of the church may be a necessary part of their conversation story.

    So, why do we mentally treat those who progress much beyond faithful doubting poorly as others and we treat investigators like gold? Aren’t they both non-believers? Yet they are treated differently. Isn’t it possible that believing is more profound and ultimately more important than just “believing” and isn’t it possible given eternity that those you discount as today as non-believers might be converted to the gospel via conversion experiences? So aren’t disaffected members and exmos also potential celestial kingdom members?

  38. Howard, I can see that we have some common ground:

    First, I absolutely believe there are different types of believers. And I absolutely believe this makes a difference. You have so strongly assumed you have correctly read my motives that you really just can’t believe I believe this. And perhaps you even think I’m making this up now on the spot as a way to respond to you.

    So I’m going to ask for some help from the above commenters that know me:

    Tracy can confirm that I rather specifically consider myself a “skeptical believer” and that I consider that to be something very different than “just believing.”

    J Max, Geoff, and Adam can confirm that I consider myself to be 75% believer and 25% atheist. Wanna bet I think this makes a difference in my life? (Not necessarily a positive difference either.)

    Jetboy and Bookslinger can confirm how they hate the fact that I actually said positive things about taking action against global warming. (Okay, I don’t see the relevance either.)

    So, yes, I do not believe in treating or thinking of all believers as the same. Yes, we think of ‘investigators’ differently than ‘doubters’ but if you know anything about human psychology, you know that is a biological distinction that takes place at a pretty visceral level. (Ready Haidt and Deutsch for more on this.) But your point is well taken that we aren’t necessarily being rational when we make such distinctions. But frankly, sometimes those differences do in fact matter. That’s why evolution built them into us.

    I also see significant divisions between non-believers. There are, in fact, huge difference between different types of non-believers. I pointed out, for example, that Agellius (a Catholic frequenter on this site) often has more in common with me belief-wise than John Dehlin. Yet both or “non-believers” in some legitimate sense while one of them is Mormon and the other isn’t. So such distinctions abound. And they matter.

    That being said, this particular post had no relevance to those distinctions, so that is why they don’t show up. It’s unfair for you to assume that the mere fact that I didn’t mention a non-relevant distinction therefore means I don’t care about them.

    But the post did have relevance to the believer/non-believer distinction. I guess you’ll have to wait for my future posts, but there are *hugh* differences between how a believer would want to go about increasing transparency and how a non-believer (if they are disaffected) would often expect that to happen.

    When the church does increase transparency – as JMax points out just took a huge step forward just days ago – I honestly do not believe it will do anything but further enrage the majority of Post-Mormons. The charges of dishonesty will increase because the Church chose to put it into a faithful light they feel is dishonest still. The charges of betrayal will increase. The anger will increase. The frustration with “TBMs” will strongly increase because now the “TBMs” will know exactly what they are talking about and will still have no interest in converting away from Mormonism. Post-Mormons are barking up the wrong tree in my opinion and when they finally get what they want, it will hurt them not help them.

    “Isn’t it possible that believing is more profound and ultimately more important than just “believing” and isn’t it possible given eternity that those you discount as today as non-believers might be converted to the gospel via conversion experiences?”

    “So aren’t disaffected members and exmos also potential celestial kingdom members?”

    Oh, absolutely! Hey, you’re talking to a (almost) universalist! Better believe I believe that.

    And yet, I’m going to be frank here, if the biggest improvements are going to come in the lives of disaffected Mormons, it will not come because the Mormon Church has changed to their liking. Indeed that will bring them not the slightest relief imo. So any real discussion on this topic must include the obvious, that the change must start from within.

    Because I am considered ‘a believer’ I am not sure how much I can influence that. You can so much more so than I can.

    I hope maybe my future posts will catch the eye of a few leaders in the disaffected community (or maybe the Dehlin-sphere, which arguably isn’t even disaffected) and maybe convince them to change tactics a bit to something that will really help people better. But probably I’ll influence no one at all. But you can’t blame me for trying.

  39. Thanks, Bruce. There are those who try to build up, and those who want to tear down. Those who want to tear down like to make fun of and point the finger at those who try to build up. It’s so easy to do. Building up is far more difficult than tearing down, and in the long run, I think, far more rewarding.

    Is this what some people call “othering”?

  40. When the church does increase transparency – as JMax points out just took a huge step forward just days ago – I honestly do not believe it will do anything but further enrage the majority of Post-Mormons. The charges of dishonesty will increase because the Church chose to put it into a faithful light they feel is dishonest still. The charges of betrayal will increase. The anger will increase.

    If Jmax is referring to the essays I agree. I generally disagree with the rest of this, except I do see what appears to be at least one website poised for attacking the new material as it comes in. The essays move in the direction of explanation and honesty and in doing so eliminates a lot gray area that was once used as ammunition against the church. So while some will continue to challenge the church there will be considerably less for them to attack.

    Regarding:

    …it so strongly smacks of very common an unrealistic view that the Church has some sort of moral duty to bring up all arguments against it ‘so that people can make an informed choice?’

    We both know the church has presented a correlated airbrushed Photoshopped version of it’s controversial history and doctrine and left the truth behind in dusty archives to be discovered and published online like some old WWII land mines laying around waiting to detonate faithful believer’s testimonies. The church owes inoculation for all current and future members to prevent these detonations that are so devastating to it’s members lives and the church’s membership.

    I’m in favor of counting all the people members that the church counts as members without slighting them as under class in some way. Invite them to the discussion because they have had experiences the current “active” “faithful” “believing” members have not had. Their voice is an important contribution to improving things because it represents a perspective that has too long been shouted down or ignored.

  41. Hey Howard, I guess I’ll have to give it time to see which one of us turns out to be right about the long term effect. I suspect it will be effective at causing fewer people to leave the church, but I also suspect those that already left will likely not appreciate it as much as you think.

    The rest of what you say, well, I don’t really disagree with it. Even the part about not slighting people that have fallen away. I can see I’m not going to convince you that my motives were anything but an attempt to marginalize others.

    Heck, over the course of this discussion I’ve both admitted that perhaps you were right that played a role subconsciously and even suggested maybe you were right I should have tried hard to express their real pain and try to address it. During that time you done nothing but play a single note.

    I just think its unfortunate you can’t see that these aren’t mutually exclusive positions. I am advocating for improvement on both sides as I do through out post. So far you’re only advocating for change on one side. That truly is unfortunate.

  42. Howard, I want to add one thing.

    While I might not agree with some of your approach to this problem, I definitely can appreciate the side you do express. And I do agree with you. It’s hard to get that across because we keep arguing. But I do think you said a lot of good things.

  43. Maybe you’re right Bruce, I’m only arguing one premise of your post and I appreciate the opportunity you’ve provided to discuss it. But I know the church is larger than just those with temple recommends, or those with leadership callings, or those with perfect attendance or those who love the status quo or those who self identify in the bloggernacle as being faithful or believing members.

  44. At least in the US, all marriages performed by a priesthood holder are done because the state has a law that allows religious representatives to act on behalf of the state to officiate a ceremony

    I can’t tell you how amusing I find this idea. There is no reason for civil authorities to perform marriage ceremonies at all except to maintain the appearance of sacred authority. The civil ceremony is almost entirely superfluous from a governmental perspective, more or less a waste of time. It would much more efficient to consider couples legally married the moment the marriage license is issued by the county clerk, and if the judge in a civil ceremony wasn’t standing in for a priest, that is exactly what would happen.

  45. I agree with the points made above about different types of believers and non-believers. As a skeptical believer and one who is not really wired for faith, per se (I *really* have to work for every component of my testimony; none of it comes intrinsically), I honestly don’t understand what makes most vocal non-believers tick. I’m not talking about the type that quietly lose their faith and simply stop practicing. I’m talking about the vocal, often vengeful type that loves to hate on the church, whp relish every blow, often under the guise of being duped or betrayed. The “betrayed” concept in particular doesn’t wash with me. Betrayed by who? Leadership? Have we ever claimed this was the Church of Thomas Monson, or Bishop Jones, or EQ President Davis?

    I’ve been plenty offended by leaders. I don’t lionize them or hold them on any pedestal. I find some general authorities downright uninspiring. I think most Ensign articles are watered-down drivel. I don’t dig a lot of LDS culture’s political leanings. I’m not particularly fond of Utah Mormons. I’ve been personally offended by many a leader. But in the end, this ain’t their church. to leave the church because of a “betrayal” by people who are not God is to fundamentally misunderstand church doctrine and hierarchy. It’s like a diabetic ceasing his insulin treatment because his doctor told an off-color joke. Hypocrisy (or perceived hypocrisy) in a leader has absolutely no bearing on eternal gospel principles.

  46. “But I know the church is larger than just those with temple recommends, or those with leadership callings, or those with perfect attendance or those who love the status quo or those who self identify in the bloggernacle as being faithful or believing members.”

    Sure would be hard to disagree with that statement, Howard. Thank you for your comments. I am going to be doing more posts on this subject (if I find the strength) and your counter point of view would be appreciate. We’ve proven we can disagree without getting nasty.

    Tossman, you do sound supiciously a lot like me. Do you mind if I contact you in the future using your email? I like to talk to other skeptical believers.

  47. Tossman,
    Guise? Is it possible given you are “not really wired for faith” and you “honestly don’t understand what makes most vocal non-believers tick” that you were never in the shoes of a believer who just innocently believes and therefore lack the life experience to understand their feeling of betrayal?

    Betrayed by who? By an institution that claims to be the only “true” church on earth lead by Jesus Christ himself. If such an institution IS what it purports to be it should be above such falsehoods or so their innocent reasoning goes.

    I’m looking forward to more discussion Bruce!

  48. Howard, I will not answer for Tossman, but really I want to answer that question for myself. This was actually what I was trying to get at from before.

    If there is one thing that is obvious to me by this point in my life its that I’m maybe not the most normal person in the world. Geoff puts it as, Bruce dances to the beat of his own drum and he likes it that way. I think he’s right except I think the jury is out on how much I actually like it that way.

    I really just don’t seem to be wired for faith much at all. It has been hard for me to remaining faithful and to hold on to my faith and maybe its not that suprising I have lost it in the past and feel like I’m in constant danger of losing it again. (Recently I went through health problems that lead to a depression and whenever I’m depressed I lose my faith for a while. Things are much better now.)

    I really do believe that you are right that I’ve never been in teh shoes of “a believer who just innocently believes and therefore lack the life experience to udnerstand their feelings of betrayal.” That was specifically what I was admitting to.

    That being said, the fact that my brain seems to function differently is also precisely why I have something unique and important to contribute coming from a view point most people have simply never thought of and probably could benefit from thinking from at least a little bit.

  49. “I’ve been personally offended by many a leader. But in the end, this ain’t their church. to leave the church because of a “betrayal” by people who are not God is to fundamentally misunderstand church doctrine and hierarchy. It’s like a diabetic ceasing his insulin treatment because his doctor told an off-color joke. Hypocrisy (or perceived hypocrisy) in a leader has absolutely no bearing on eternal gospel principles.” TOSSMAN, NICE COMMENT!

  50. Howard, I probably haven’t been in the exact shoes you’re describing. If there was ever a time in my life of innocent belief, it was in my youth. I can say I felt a level of frustration when I learned certain things about history, but I wouldn’t call it betrayal. I particularly felt this way due to the tendency of the culture to portray leaders as nearly flawless. When I learned that nobody was as awesome as the books and manuals made them out to be, and that in fact some of them were quite flawed, I can say I wished “the institution” and the culture would have been more forthright.

    But that’s the institution and culture. I may not be wired for faith, but I do grasp the concept of eternal principles and truths (whether perceived or real) independent from the temporal institution and its leaders. They should be above falsehoods, but they’re not above mistakes.

  51. Bruce,
    I agree that your (and other”s) rare viewpoints offer something of importance and value to be considered in the discussion. It broadens the conversation and tests the premise of the group think which is very useful in getting the the heart of issues. In fact it is THAT minority viewpoint that drives most of the progressive issues within the church because the minorities often find their place in the church difficult and hurtful to endure because it’s designed for the majority and defended by the orthodox who by definition defend the status quo arguing minorities must conform for some vague ill defined reason that somehow accrues the the greater good which also happens to be privileged class. However when that rare viewpoint seems incapable of understanding the feelings of others who form a group far less rare than you it’s time to look for what you might be missing. Is it not?

  52. Tossman,
    The difference between feeling frustrated and betrayed is often caused by how abrupt, how quickly or how slowly your (false) belief system was penetrated by the truth. When it’s a slow fizz betrayal typically isn’t triggered or felt but when it is acute betrayal is often triggered and strongly felt and it’s is quite a disservice to the innocent because in their own ego defense reaction betrayed people tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater becoming atheists (or so they think, but probably more truely agnostics) and sometimes throwing out their moral system along with the church. This is why inoculation is so important, it slows the realization that the church Photoshopped it’s inconvenient truths sidestepping betrayal and tossing babies out!

  53. I too struggle with faith issues but remain in the Church. We are often reminded that the distinction between “The Church” and “The Gospel” is that The Church is made up of flawed human beings just trying to follow God’s will, but The Gospel, the doctrine, is perfect. We are told that even Church leaders are imperfect; that “there may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.” I appreciate this statement and feel The Church is on the road to achieving a greater level of openness and transparency. Ultimately we should be striving on an individual level for greater openness and transparency between ourselves and the Lord, not necessarily the Church. That said, the implication is that leaders and members err on a personal level, but the doctrine remains pure. I submit that misinterpretation, or misapplication of the doctrine is not only human error but should also be considered doctrinal error. It’s difficult for me to ignore the link between us and our doctrine. However, the Church is not in the business of admitting or correcting any doctrinal problems because that would represent a serious threat to its authority and claim to absolute truth. So while I don’t feel betrayed, I do feel the Church could focus more on the doctrine and resist the urge to chalk everything up to human error. Yes, some people leave the church because they were offended by some flawed leader, but many leave the Church because of flawed doctrine.

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