FAIR Conference, day two: Rosemary Avance – ‘Parallels in Mormon conversion and de-conversion stories’

The full title is: “Seeing the light: Parallels in Mormon Conversion and De-conversion Stories.”

Rosemary Avance is a non-member and the first non-member to speak at a FAIR conference. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and a scholar of Mormonism.

She wants to understand the plurality of experience of Mormons. She started out with Dan Peterson’s quotation:

Peterson’s First Rule for the Study of Other Religions: “If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.”

She said it is important for Mormon scholars to take seriously the perspective of dissenting and former Mormons.

Individuals craft their own definitions of what it means to belong to a Church. Some are what she calls “faithful members.” Others are heterodox (pathway Mormons) or dissenters (escapists).

She has been doing research on Mormon conversion or de-conversion stories. She parallels the testimonies of faithful members with heterodox or dissenting members. She has interviewed dozens of faithful and heterodox and dissenting members.

The internet is increasingly playing a role in the development of religious identity. But the internet is also an uncorrelated space. Church leaders are aware of this. Many heterodox or former Mormons see the internet as their new community (as do some faithful Mormons).

Narrative as a ritual helps create community of faith, especially for faithful Mormons. Dissidents and former Mormons also have their own narratives.

There are three very different approaches to identity. Heterodox Mormons want progressive change but are generally sympathetic to the Church. People set up communities for “learning” and discussing their concerns with the Church. Most people are usually anonymous or use pseudonyms.

Dissenters are more involved with stridently bringing people out of the Church. Some are anonymous on these forums, but others are not.

Heterodox and former Mormons also create testimonies and have cohesive narrative elements.

Faithful people describe the moment they became open to the Church. Dissenters also describe the moment they find a bit of information that create a frenzied effort to seek information that the Church deems “anti-Mormon.” The dissenters always claim they are simply seeking rational information.

Converts “see the light.” Dissenters say “the light comes on.” Converts say they are filled with peace, dissenters say they are filled with anger.

Heterodox Mormons truly do take a middle way. They still have their own formula, however. They usually offer their Mormon bona fides. Then they say they found out some bit of information that disrupts their view of the Church. Heterodox Mormons usually discuss social issues such as political issues or being forced to wear a white shirt.

Heterodox Mormons tend to continue to attend Church on their own terms. They still have their own ritual function.

If faithful Mormons and apologists want to understand the positions of heterodox or critical Mormons, they need to take them seriously and consider their perspectives.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

4 thoughts on “FAIR Conference, day two: Rosemary Avance – ‘Parallels in Mormon conversion and de-conversion stories’

  1. >>Converts say they are filled with peace, dissenters say they are filled with anger.

    Actually, many dissenters also report a feeling of peace once they make the decision to leave. A good example of this was Hilary Brown’s “agnostic testimony” at Sunstone. She described a feeling overwhelming peace and certainty that she was doing the right thing. She also described a dramatic increase in self-worth.

  2. How do we know either experience is just the conclusion of making a decision and not the truthfulness of the decision to either join or leave the Church?

  3. I think that many Dissenters are first put on this path by “Spiritual Abuse” or “Church Abuse”. This kind of abuse can happen in any church. It is a circumstance created by fallible human beings. In the process that leads to the discovery of information which supports their decision to leave, they gain some peace that G-d was not part of the abuse. Unfortunately, in blaming the “church” rather than the individuals, who were abusive, leads to a loss of faith. We need to see G-d and Christ as perfect and not label the church or it’s leaders as such.

  4. Having had some close family members leave the Church recently, I was interested in how they felt. When they bore testimony it was about the Saviour and their relationship to Him. I was grateful for that. However as I listened, it was clear to me that they had not studied the scriptures or attended to some important personal activities that might not have made them so vulnerable to anti-Mormon literature. However, their peace of mind was evident.

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