In my last post I gave some background on my stint on Mormon Matters and then talked about some of the important players.
When I left Mormon Matters my dear friend, DougG, was the only person that really noticed I had disappeared. He was also the only person that actually asked me to return. When I talked with Doug on the phone (that was when he asked me to come back) this is what I told him.
I said I felt like Mormon Matters played an important role of being a friendly place to ‘let off steam’ for those that didn’t believe in the LDS Church’s defining beliefs any more (sometimes still practicing, sometimes, not) while still allowing them to interact with a certain kind of Mormon that still believed, but was sympathetic to their concerns. This belief-with-sympathies approach really only worked if the believers were willing to not strongly challenge the post Mormons on their new beliefs or on their concerns.
So I had come to wonder if my presence there — where I would directly challenge a former members new beliefs — was disrupting that purpose. Was it possible that I was even causing people to quit by my presence?
We had several post Mormons quit within my short stint due to “too many posts supportive of the LDS Church.” After they quit, John Dehlin quickly utilized his post-Mormon network to find new replacements — and this took all of 30 seconds in most cases. And not a single post Mormon that quit ever said “I quit because I don’t like how Bruce is challenging me too much.” It was generally just the existence of too many “pro Mormon posts” that caused the problem. On at least one occaision, we had a blogger quit because she was upset with how Hawkgrrl had moderated a comment. (If you know how permitting Hawk is with comments, you will laugh at that last statement. You have to be cussing and threatening some GA before she’ll consider cutting the comment. Yet it was true that this angered at least one blogger that then quit.)
This played on my mind quite a bit. Was Mormon Matters really a place for post-Mormons to ‘get it out’ while getting a sympathetic comments or two from the Believing Mormons there? If so, was this a bad thing?
If I might give a good example here, I think Hawkgrrl is awesome at this. She would do a post that would include both positives and negatives about some policy or position of the Church. Then she’d let the comments fly. She has a heavy ‘restraint’ factor where she just makes a few simple comments here and there and that is about it. These comments typically consist of about equal parts “yes, I see your point and you’re right” and “have you thought about it this way such that maybe it’s not as bad as you think.” She is masterful at being both sympathetic and empathetic to someone angry at the Church while also just hinting at how they could improve their relationship with believers by changing themselves a bit as well.
But never does she strongly challenge these post Mormons in the way they challenge believing Mormons.
Though I didn’t know Jeff Spector that well, I noticed he used a similar approach. Stephen Marsh seemed quite masterful at this approach too.
Later, when Ray joined, he took a related but different approach. He too could be very sympathetic and even empathetic to those that had issues with the Church. But instead of just the hint of a possible resolution, he’d talk your ear off about possible ways to rethink your objections to various Church doctrines. (Post Mormons tend to automatically think the worst of all possible worlds when it comes to LDS Doctrines.) But he was so kind and considerate in how he stated everything, rarely losing his cool to the almost continual misreading of what he said.
At least for these four, they had this approach down and it worked for them.
So my feeling at the time I quit was “why should I want to be someone who stirs things up and might actually be a disruption to any good Mormon Matters is likely doing?”
The post Mormons there didn’t want to be reconverted in the slightest. They wanted to be angry and throw about accusations. If they were to interact with a currently believing Mormon, they needed a very specific type of believing Mormon.
But I was not going to be another Hawkgrrl. It was just that simple. We are all different kinds of personalities with different interests and different needs. The world needs Hawkgrrl’s (and Jeff’s, Stephen’s, and Ray’s) but it also needs Bruce’s and Bonnie’s.
Mormon Matters was a much better fit for a Hawkgrrl than a Bruce. It was practically tailor-maid for both a Hawkgrrl approach to the LDS Church as well as John Dehlin approach to the LDS church (even though those two approaches are often at cross purposes with each other). It wasn’t so hot for my approach. I think this gets to the heart of my “outsider” status.
Or in any case, this is the reason I gave to DougG at the time.
In my next few posts, I’ll explore further why I had come to feel the way I did. And I will give examples of why I felt this view was a better model of Mormon Matters then either it’s self-proclaimed “celebration of Mormonism across a spectrum of belief” (as was our tag line for the first few months) or even as a place for dialogue between believers and non-believers.
In short, I will argue that Mormon Matters was fine — maybe even good — for what it was. It just wasn’t what it (probably sincerely) claimed to be.