Prisoner: What do you want?
Number Two: Information.
Prisoner: Whose side are you on?
Number Two: That would be telling…. We want information…information…information!
Prisoner: Who are you?
Number Two: The new Number Two.
Prisoner: Who is Number One?
Number Two: You are, Number Six.
Prisoner: I am not a number; I am a free man!
Number Two: [shouting] Why, why, why did you resign?
Prisoner: I’ve resigned. I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own. I resign.
Number Two: Why did you resign?
Prisoner: For peace.
Number Two: You resigned for peace?
Prisoner: Yes. Let me out.
Number Two: You’re a fool.
Prisoner: For peace of mind.
Number Two: What?
Prisoner: For peace of mind!
Number Two: Why?
Prisoner: Because too many people know too much.
Number Two: Never!
Prisoner: I know too much!
Number Two: Tell me.
Prisoner: I know too much about you!
My Introduction to the Bloggernacle Through Mormon Matters
Recently Bonnie from Wheat and Tares asked me a question that no one had ever asked me before. She wanted to know why I had resigned from Mormon Matters. Actually “resigned” is the wrong word. I supposed I never in any sense officially resigned. I simply stopped posting one day and stopped even visiting or commenting. It didn’t even really happen all at once. It started out with me taking longer and longer breaks from blogging on Mormon Matters and then one day the “break” was so long there was no point in my coming back.
But like our prisoner above, I had reasons for leaving that I had never really told anyone. And, not unlike the prisoner quote above, the real reasons included a realization that both Mormon Matters and I would be a lot more peaceful and successful without me present. (See next post.)
I sensed that Bonnie was asking me in part because she is wondering about how to best focus her own blogging efforts. Like here, I wanted to participate in a sort of interfaith dialogue (interfaith between Believing Mormonism and Post-Belief-Mormonism, with several possible inbetween positions) but found that, in practice, it was just not as good a thing as I hoped.
But why? At first I couldn’t even put my finger on why it just felt so wrong for me to be participating on Mormon Matters. Dialogue was good, right? How could it be bad? We were talking! We are airing differences and coming to understand one another better! Right?! Right!?
I just kept telling myself that, but it sure didn’t feel that way.
So this series of posts will attempt to answer Bonnie’s question to me. I am really attempting to put feelings into words for the first time. These are thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a while and I’m glad that Bonnie finally gave me a chance to ‘let them out.’
So I want you all to pretend that Bonnie is the “new number two” and she is grilling me harshly and I am finally cracking and spilling all as to Why I Resigned From Mormon Matters.
How It Began
In January of 2008 my stint as a Mormon Matters permablogger began with this post. It continued until April of 2009 and ended with this post. Mormon Matters started as a group blog days after John Dehlin stopped producing his Mormon Stories Podcast. (He has since restarted it.)
Interestingly, I had just discovered the Bloggernacle days before from reading Richard Bushman’s book On the Road with Joseph Smith where he speaks very approvingly of the Bloggernacle, particulary Times and Seasons. I must have commented on Times and Seasons two or maybe three threads and then, following various links, I had come across the Mormon Stories blog and podcast and had even called and talked with John Dehlin on the phone.
John had completed his last podcast (or so he thought at the time) and during an online discussion thread he had an idea to start a so-called “full spectrum” blog where believers, moderates, and post Mormons could get together, share their experiences, and talk about their Mormon experience. John opened up an invitation to be a permablogger and I was soon a permablogger on a major Mormon blog – only days after having found the Bloggernacle. So please keep in mind just how Bloggernacle naïve I was at the time. I think people on the Bloggernacle – especially its John Dehlin side – forget just how shocking the introduction to the Bloggernacle can be to many members of the LDS Church.
John had decided to make this group blog on his Mormon Matters website. Mormon Matters had been his other podcast. Unlike Mormon Stories, which was aimed at telling one’s personal story, Mormon Matters was a panel style podcast with a connected blog. It would now be a group blog with no podcast. (It has since gone back to being a podcast.)
The first year of Mormon Matters, while I was actively blogging there, consisted of a pretty good mix of those that believed in the LDS Church’s defining truth claims (I explain what those are in this post) and those that did not.
As you might imagine for a Bloggernacle site (and particularly for one run by John Dehlin), even amongst those that believed in the LDS Church’s truth claims, there was quite a bit if liberal (political and theological) leaning. So I soon found myself, against all odds, as probably the single most “conservative” member of the blog.
This was a very odd situation because frankly I’m just not that deeply conservative, neither politically nor religiously. But often (despite the presence of some relatively religiously conservative members like Hawkgrrl or Stephen) I sometimes felt like I was the Glen Beck of Mormon Matters. A situation I had hardly expected to find myself in.
The Key Players
Let me tell you about some of the key players back then so that you have some context. First, let me say that this is my honest and sincere attempt to explain my impressions of each of the players and what they believed. I do not know if they’d all agree with me or not on my assessment of where they were coming from. Indeed, one of the problems I discovered on Mormon Matters is that some people hold their beliefs close to their vest.
Here are the key players as I remember them:
John Dehlin was an occasional poster, of course. John is, belief-wise, a post Mormon but back then (he’s changed this position since) with a desire to help people like himself that no longer believe in the truth claims of the LDS Chruch to still be actively involved in Church.
Hawkgrrl was a very active blog commenter back in those early days and eventually became a permablogger and even started running the site. She believes in the core truth claims of the LDS Church (including Book of Mormon historicity) due to an experience she had with God in her younger years. However, she positions herself as a “moderate Mormon” and this is probably accurate. She is a very sympathetic individual and can relate to the issues with the LDS Church that many talk about. She clearly wants to help people find their place (in or out) of the Church as they choose.
John Hamer is a historian and blogger that grew up in the LDS Church but stopped believing in it by the time he was a teenager (though he apparently went on to go to BYU despite not believing in it). He, at the time, considered himself a “Secular Mormon” which he never did define in a way that I can tell you what that means. He has since joined the Community of Christ when they changed their stance on homosexuality and priesthood. I remember a conversation with John where he strongly hinted that he feels called by God (it is unclear how he defines “God” and he may only define “God” non-literally) to free the LDS Church of the evils of scriptural literalism and priesthood hierarchy and to move them towards more of the Community of Christ model. Nevertheless, John is convinced that doing so would save the LDS Church from the destructive path (he believes) they are already on and will allow them to be successful and continue to grow. John eventually quit the blog to go to By Common Consent (BCC) as a permablogger. Interestingly, despite insisting that he just wanted to go blog at BCC, many people believed that a backroom permablogger brawl between him and Chris Bigelow was the real reason for his leaving.
Stephen Marsh was a relatively conservative and believing Mormon that was sometimes hard to pin down. But overall, he seemed to me to be a believer in the defining doctrines of the LDS Church and friendly to its practices and beliefs.
Clay Whipkey was a close friend of John Dehlin and his story is similar to John’s. He was entirely post Mormon believe-wise, but (at the time anyhow) still active and even (like John Dehlin) held a temple recommend. (See this article on how this is accomplished.) Clay was entirely open about his lack of belief and was really the first post Mormon I talked to at length and (mistakenly) thought that he was typical of post Mormons. In fact, he is not. But I loved talking with Clay in those early days because he seemed so completely open about where he was coming from which sometimes included a very strong distaste for the LDS Church’s hierarchy and also for many of their beliefs and practices. However, he did accept at least one LDS truth claim as a worthwhile teaching (even if he wasn’t sure it was true or not) and that was Theosis: becoming gods.
It had not been long since Clay Whipkey had turned from still being a believer in the LDS Church to a non-believer agitating for change and he admits it was due to his friendship with John Dehlin. It’s interesting to read some of his earlier comments before becoming post-Mormon to see how much his rhetoric had changed such that he didn’t even seem like the same person to me anymore. (See this 2006 post and look for the comment from “Clay”) I really enjoyed talking with Clay because of his openness.
Andrew Ainsworth was a fairly typical LDS member and believer with a strong interest in other religions and their beliefs. He had incorporated a number of beliefs and practices with from other religions into his life. (See here and here) (So do I, actually. I do Buddhist meditation.) But he was still quite conservative in his Mormon beliefs and started out his time on Mormon Matters as probably the second most religiously conservative permablogger. By the time he was done, he had become noticeably more “liberal” to even someone like DougG (who commented to me on the change) and was far closer to someone like John Dehlin. I started out fairly close to Andrew and we used to talk on the phone, but as he changed he seemed to have lost interest in talking with me.
John Nilsson was a self-proclaimed “Menu Mormon” which is a term for those that pick and choose what to believe of Mormonism. However, I was unaware of any defining belief of Mormonism that he had chosen off the menu. Clay Whipkey and John Dehlin self-labeled as Menu Mormons at the time as well, though that term has since fallen out of disuse to some degree.
This turned out to be a common occurrence amongst Menu Mormons — choosing little or nothing off of it menu. But John was different somehow. At least in his writings and comments, he didn’t mind entertaining the possibility of it all being real. I remember him talking to me about “well, I don’t know what it would be like to have angels ordain me” or the like. This made him refreshing to talk to and he was openly friendly to belief at times, even if he did not personally believe in such cases. John was a joy to converse with.
Jeff Spector was a permablogger that seemed to me to fall fairly firmly in the range of “believing.” However, I did not know Jeff that well and can’t tell you much about him because we rarely talked or interacted while I was there.
DougG was not a permablogger at Mormon Matters at the time, but instead a regular commenter. He was as self-proclaimed “New Order Mormon” (Which I used to joked was not New, nor an Order, nor Mormon.) Essentially a “New Order Mormon” is another name for a “Menu Mormon” or a “Third Path Mormon” which was essentially either a practicing-but-not-believing Mormon (as was the case at the time for John Dehlin, Clay Whipkey, and John Nilsson) or was also used for a non-practicing-and-non-believing Mormon who still culturally identified with Mormonism in some way. The later was DougG. I have to mention DougG because he was the person on Mormon Matters I was the closest too. We would talk a lot on the phone and we became close enough friends that we made several attempts to go to lunch and even bring our wives. The thing I liked about Doug was that he was completely open about his beliefs. Even more so than Clay Whipkey. (More on this later.)
Interestingly, I have a similar relationship, as I did with DougG, with Greg Rockwell who is on the Sunstone board. Greg is a self-proclaimed “apostate” Mormon that is a sort of Network king of the Mormon Internet world. My conversations with Greg (about declining Sunstone) in part led to this series, so here’s my shout out to him.
I seem to get along particularly well with highly open and highly straightforward types even if they completely disagree with me over everything. As I’ll discuss later, I had a huge struggle to getting along with people who are not open about where they are coming from or who use deceptive language to imply things that aren’t true. In fact, such people sometimes hated me because I had a bad habit of piercing their rhetoric with “illegal questions.”
So, in general, I got along with all of the above (with some tensions) because all of them were relatively open about their beliefs and mostly avoided deceptive language. (Though John Hamer pushes the boundaries of ‘spin’ as far as was humanly possible in my opinion.)
One other person that I think deserves special mention, even though he was not one of the original permabloggers or even commenters, is Ray. Ray eventually became a permablogger at Mormon Matters. Ray is still a major commenter over at BCC. Ray is belief-wise, a believer. He is highly liberal leaning (as you’d imagine from a BCCer) politically and even religiously. He showed a strong desire to ‘defend’ Mormon beliefs and practices openly against those that wanted to spin them as negatives. Ray was probably the second person I was closest to on Mormon Matters after DougG and we used to talk on the phone a lot too. Ray’s counsel to me played a strong role in why I resigned from Mormon Matters.
In all actually, the players changed regularly. For example, I didn’t mention Bored in Vernal who was important there. (And who wouldn’t like her?) And Chris Bigelow, who I didn’t know at all and hardly interacted with, played an important role in why I quit when he was removed as a permablogger by John Dehlin in part for stating that he supported the Church’s doctrines on homosexuality on the permablogger email list. 
Nor did I mention Nick Literski or Joe Geisner, who while not very active as permabloggers, played an important role in my choices. In fact, there are far too numerous people who I can’t possibly mention.
So Why Did You Resign?
So this was the environment I found myself in. It was a fun and enjoyable (particularly at first) and I remember my time there fondly. I still enjoy talking to all of the above people now and again.
So why did I quit then?
In another post that previously made I gave a few high level reasons for why I quit.
Those reasons are accurate but do not represent the whole of my reasons. They do not get to, as I like to say, “the heart of the matter.”
In that post, the reasons I gave boil down to the fact that I had a growing feeling of non-relevance to that community. The topics I was interested in were mostly ignored. The only post I ever did that broke 100 comments was one that had accidentally turned into a polygamy argument because I had mentioned polygamy in passing. Most of my posts got 10 or so comments with half of them being me. Really, perhaps, not bad. But nothing like the number of comments Mormon Matters would get on its regular topics of homosexuality, gay marriage, what if the Church wasn’t true after all, etc. It was very clear that certain topics were of far greater interest than others.
Remember, I was a Bloggernacle newbie at the time. Indeed, I was a blog newbie period. It is rare that any blog post gets over 100 comments without there being the ‘train wreck’ effect. Controversy and argument breeds heavy commenting. But I didn’t really know that at the time.
With this background in mind, you’re ready for the rest of my series.
 Chris made the mistake of saying that in his view, though people might be born with a sexual predilection one way or the other, God expected them to still move themselves towards heterosexuality. This statement lead to the previously mentioned brawl between him and John Hamer and John left Mormon Matters for BCC within a day or so after that. It looked bad, though I suspect that John Hamer was actually telling the truth that the brawl had little to do with his choice to blog at BCC. But regardless of John Hamer’s reasons for leaving, the end result was that John Dehlin dismissed Chris soon thereafter. In the email John Dehlin sent to Chris stating why he was removed, he listed three reasons. One of which was his argument between him and John Hamer on the issue of homosexuality. Hawkgrrl later convinced me this wasn’t the primary or most important reason, however.